India’s Vaccine Woes May Not End Soon as Poonawalla Says Shortage to Go On Till July: Report

New Delhi: Amid the worrying surge in Covid-19 cases and shortage of vaccines across the country, Serum Institute of India chief executive Adar Poonawalla has said that the shortage in supply would go on till July. Owing to the shortage of vaccines, several states, including Maharashtra and Delhi, have delayed the vaccination of 18-44 ages, scheduled to begin on May 1 as stipulated by the Centre.

The production of Covishield doses is expected to grow in July from 60-70 million vaccines a month to around 100 million, a Financial Times report said.

The authorities were not expecting a second wave of coronavirus in January as the cases were on the decline, Poonawalla told the newspaper. “Everybody really felt that India had started to turn the tide on the pandemic,” he said.

The SII chief alleged that the vaccine manufacturer has been wrongfully maligned by politicians and critics over the vaccine shortages. However, Poonawalla pointed out that the government, not the company, was responsible for policy. The company has also faced criticism for charging the state government, following which the prices were lowered.

“I’ve been victimised very unfairly and wrongly,” he said. The capacity was not boosted earlier because “there were no orders, we did not think we needed to make more than 1bn doses a year”.

Poonawalla, who has been in the UK on extended stay to evade alleged threats in India over ever-increasing demand for COVID-19 vaccines, has said he will return in a few days. In an interview to ‘The Times’, Poonawalla had alleged that he had been receiving threats in India and that he and his family had left the country for London after unprecedented “pressure and aggression” over the demand of COVID-19 vaccines.

In a late night tweet on Saturday, he said the production of Covishield — the Oxford/AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine that is being produced by Serum Institute in India — was in full swing at SII’s facility in Pune. “Pleased to state that COVISHIELD’s production is in full swing in Pune. I look forward to reviewing operations upon my return in a few days,” Poonawalla said. He, however, did not give a timeline for his return to India.

On his stay in the UK, the Serum Institute of India (SII) head said that he “had an excellent meeting” with all partners and stakeholders in that country. Indian authorities are scrambling for vaccines, medicines and oxygen as the nation faces its worst health crisis. The number of daily coronavirus cases in India slipped slightly, a day after becoming the first in the world to cross the 4 lakh mark.

On Sunday, India’s new coronavirus cases rose by 3,92,488, while deaths from the infection jumped by 3,689 over the past 24 hours, according to health ministry data released on Sunday. Total case load now stands at 1.95 crore with 2,15,542 deaths.

India rolled out the third phase of its COVID-19 vaccination drive for those in the age group of 18-45 years on Saturday though the inoculation process failed to take off in some states due to shortage of vaccines. While Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir among other states and union territories launched the vaccination drive, Karnataka and Odisha made only a symbolic start to it.

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