Adar Poonawalla-led Serum Institute of India Ltd is not making fresh batches of its Covid vaccine after the company achieved the stockpile limit of a whopping 200 million doses. The world’s largest vaccine maker is the manufacturer of Covishield in India, which has been developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca Plc.
“We have got 200 million doses of stock. We had to shut down production in December,” says Poonawalla at a media event today. The Serum CEO says amid the surplus stock, his main worry was the wastage of vaccine doses if a particular batch reaches its expiry date. Poonawalla says he even offered to give free donations to avoid wastage.
Poonawalla's remarks on vaccine oversupply flag the larger problem many companies could be facing currently. This is also in contrast with the measures taken by the Centre last year, under which it banned the export of vaccines. The Centre had imposed an export ban on the export of vaccines amid the brutal second Covid wave in April-May 2021. The devastating Covid wave had claimed many lives in India, forcing the government to speed up vaccination and putting pressure on vaccine makers.
The vaccine export was resumed in October 2021 and by then domestic stocks were in surplus and a large part of the country's population was vaccinated. Reasons attributed to the oversupply of vaccine doses are inoculation of a large part of the population by countries, especially smaller ones, and herd immunity.
Apart from Covishield, Serum also produces Covovax Covid vaccine under licence from the U.S.-based Novavax. This vaccine is part of the World Health Organisation's (WHO) COVAX facility portfolio, established to ensure an adequate supply of Covid-19 vaccines to people in lower-income countries.
After achieving major success in vaccinating a large part of its population, India had allowed booster doses for the entire population between 18 and 59 years of age from April 10. However, the recommended time period of nine months to get a booster dose still remains. Poonawalla has also advocated for reducing the time period for receiving the booster dose from nine to six months. The government had also started the COVID-19 vaccination programme for the age group 12-14 years on March 16, 2022. So far, over 2.57 crore adolescents have been administered the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
India’s COVID-19 vaccination coverage has exceeded 187.26 crore as per provisional reports till 7 am today. Over 192.40 crore vaccine doses have been provided to states/UTs so far through the free channel of the Centre. Though India has lifted all Covid curbs in the wake of a massive dip in Covid cases, the national capital has again made it mandatory to wear masks as infections start rising in some areas. As of Friday, India reported 2,451 new cases in the past 24 hours. Its active caseload stands at 14,241, which is around 0.03% of the country's total positive cases.