Amid conflicting reports and debate about orders placed by the government to manufacturers for COVID-19 vaccines, Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla on Monday said his company has received orders for 26 crore doses. This clarification comes after he had said that there were no orders and the company did not think it would be required to make more than 1 billion doses a year.
SII is producing Oxford-AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine Covishield in India. Currently two vaccines are being used for India's COVID-19 vaccination programme -- Covishield and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin.
"As of today, we received total orders of over 26 crore doses of which we supplied more than 15 crore doses. We have also got 100 per cent advance of Rs 1,732.50 crore by GoI for the next tranche of 11 crore doses in the next few months. Another 11 crore doses would be supplied in the second channel for states and private hospitals in the next few months," Poonawalla said in a statement.
Earlier in an interview to Financial Times, he had said vaccine shortage could continue in India till July, which is when SII's Covishield production is expected to increase to 100 million per month from the current 60-70 million. "I've been victimised very unfairly and wrongly," he said, adding that he has been maligned by politicians and critics over vaccine shortages.
In the statement, Poonawalla said he would like to clarify certain things since his 'no orders' comments may have been "misinterpreted".
"First of all, vaccine manufacturing is a specialized process, it is therefore not possible to ramp up production overnight. We also need to understand that the population of India is huge and to produce enough doses for all adults is not an easy task. Even the most advanced countries and companies are struggling in relatively smaller populations," the statement said.
SII has been working closely with the Indian government since April last year and has received scientific, regulatory as well as financial support, it said.
"...we understand that everyone wants the vaccine to be available in the quickest possible time. That is our endeavour too and we are making every effort to achieve that. We shall work even harder and strengthen India's fight against COVID-19," Poonawalla said.
Earlier today, the Centre rejected news reports suggesting that it had placed last order for COVID-19 vaccines in March. The government said it released an advance amount of over Rs 2,500 crore for procuring 16 crore doses of vaccines during May-July period.
While 100 per cent advance of Rs 1732.50 crore was released to SII on April 28 for supply of 11 crore doses of Covishield during May-July, Rs 787.50 crore was issued to Bharat Biotech on the same day for supply of 5 crore Covaxin doses during the three months, the government said.
Amidst the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, India has opened vaccination for everyone above the age of 18 years. However, there is a scarcity of vaccines, with many states complaining of shortage. The government last month gave emergency use approval for Russia's COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V, while it also fast-tracked approval process for foreign vaccines which have been approved by drug regulators of US, UK, Europe and Japan to further improve the availability of vaccines.