Serum CEO Poonawalla extends halt on covid vaccine


Nepal's hopes of receiving remaining doses of COVISHIELD vaccines, that have been paid for already, anytime soon seem to be sinking as the manufacturer Serum Institute of India (SII) has said it would not export vaccines for several months.

Nepal had paid the SII Rs 930 million to procure two million doses of the vaccines in February of which the company had delivered half of the supplies immediately. Nepal was due to receive the second half which has been halted as the Indian government in March had stopped the Covid-19 vaccine export to Nepal and other countries in a bid to meet its domestic demand amid the raging second wave of the pandemic.

SII had agreed to provide two million doses at a subsidised rate of $4 per shot.

Nepal, under India's Vaccine Maitri initiative, had received one million doses from SII on January 2. On March 07, Nepal received 348,000 doses of COVISHIELD under the COVAX facility -- a partnership between CEPI, Gavi, UNICEF and WHO. Likewise, the country received 800,000 doses of Vero Cell vaccine, manufactured by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products Co Ltd (BIBP), China, under Sinopharm, in late March.

SII Chief Adar Poonawalla on Tuesday said that there has been 'intense discussion' on the decision of the Indian government and vaccine manufacturers about the possible export of vaccines.

Read SII's statement, here

"We continue to scale up manufacturing and prioritise India," the SII said, adding, "We also hope to start delivering to Covax and other countries by the end of this year."

It clarified that the company would not be able to export vaccines to other countries as well as the World Health Organisation's Covax programme before the end of the year, indicating that Nepal may have to wait til 2022 for the delivery of the second batch.

India's vaccination drive, he said, cannot be completed in two or three months given the huge population. It is Important to "stay united to fight the pandemic", reads the media statement issued by Poonawalla.

Poonawalla further stated that there was a stockpile of vaccines when it was launched earlier this year in India. The Covid numbers were at an "all-time low" and the vaccination drive had started successfully, he said.

Poonawalla asserted the pandemic "cannot be limited by geographical or political boundaries," he said "we will not be safe till everyone has been able to defeat the virus on a global scale".

"It would take 2-3 years for the entire world population to get fully vaccinated," he concluded.