Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla today said that the AstraZeneca-Oxford University-made vaccine that it is manufacturing, Covishield, can be exported to all countries. Earlier, a news agency had reported that Pune’s SII had got the approval on the condition of no exports as of now.
The Associated Press had reported that Poonawalla had said his company had been barred from selling what is the first Covid-19 vaccine in India to get restricted emergency-use approval on the private market.
Serum Institute of India (SII) is the world’s largest vaccine maker by the number of doses produced in a year. As it tied up with AstraZeneca and Oxford University to conduct trials in India and to produce the vaccines in India, several south Asian countries evinced interest in Covaxin.
Exports to neighbourhood and beyond
The Bangladesh health ministry, Serum Institute and Bangladesh’s Beximco Pharmaceuticals signed an MoU in November, according to which SII would provide three crore doses to Bangladesh.
Demand for the made-in-India SII vaccine is not limited only to the neighbouring countries. The vaccine is likely to be cheaper than its global competitors.
Global vaccine alliance Gavi has collaborated with the SII and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to deliver up to an additional 100 million doses of vaccines, once proved effective, to low- and middle-income countries, as part of the Gavi-COVAX Advance Market Commitment. Hence, the approval of the vaccine for restricted emergency use is good news for the international market as well but reports that India has barred SII to export its vaccines led to confusion.
SII is also part of another vaccine project — CoV2373 — in collaboration with Novavax.
SII versus Bharat Biotech
After both the companies got a go-ahead for restricted, emergency use in India, apparent competition between the two vaccine candidates mounted as many questioned the efficacy of Bharat Biotech’s vaccine, Covaxin, which is still undergoing trial. AIIMS chief Randeep Guleria said India will use Covishield/Oxford vaccine as the primary vaccine and Bharat Biotech’s vaccine will be a back-up option. Also, Bharat Biotech’s vaccine may be more potential against new Coronavirus mutant, it was said.
In an interview, Adar Poonawalla reportedly said only three vaccines in the world have passed all scientific evaluations — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca. “…others were safe, ‘safe like water’,” he was quoted.
Bharat Biotech chairman Krishna Ella did not shrug off the criticism. He pointed out the trial error that Astrazeneca did in September and questioned why Covaxin would be considered as the back-up vaccine.
In this backdrop, SII and Bharat Biotech will issue a joint statement clearing up “any recent miscommunication with regards to Bharat Biotech will be made”, Poonawalla said.