Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer of the Serum Institute of India (SII), the local manufacturer of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, spoke to Rhythma Kaul about the future course of action after emergency use authorisation by India’s drugs regulator for the vaccine.

SII has already produced millions of doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. How sure were you of the gamble paying off?

We weren’t very sure at the beginning in March-April but we had committed 100%, financially and technically. We had a lot riding on it, and are happy that it worked. It’s not just financial; if it didn’t work, then we would have lost six months doing something else, and then people would have had the vaccine that much later. So, it’s a great victory that the drugs controller approved it.

Do you think it took longer than expected for the approval to come?

I am very happy and grateful about the way it has gone because we didn’t want to rush anyone into doing something. We wanted the drugs controller and the ministry of health to really go through all the data, examine everything, to double check what we have done, what Oxford has done that is safe and effective.

What happens after receiving regulatory approvals?

They (Indian government) have to still sign a purchase order with us, and tell us where to send the vaccine, and 7 to 10 days after that, we can deliver the vaccine. We have already offered to them in writing a very special price of ₹200, only for the government, for the first 100 million doses and then the price will be higher or different. In the private market, we have said it’s going to be a ₹1,000 per dose as an MRP, and we will probably sell it for ₹600-700. In exports also, it will be between $3-5, depending on the different countries we are signing with, but that is going to come in probably March-April because the government has said no exports right now. We cannot give it to the private market.

Does the export restriction also mean you cannot supply to the Covax facility?

I can only give it to Covax after they ease these restrictions, which I am sure they will in two months as this is not forever. This is just for a little while till the government has enough doses to take care of the most vulnerable people.

How many quality tested doses do you have ready for the government?

50 million.

How difficult does rumour-mongering make things?

Anyone has the right to question science or facts but the more we read up on what data is done; where it’s been tested, you talk and listen to some of the experts, then it builds the confidence over time that these vaccines are very safe and effective. Nobody is ever going to force anyone to take the vaccine.

Is it correct that you said only three vaccines in the world have proven efficacy?

Only three in the world have proven efficacy (Pfizer, Moderna and Oxofrd-AstraZeneca)… Nobody else in India, in Russia, in Europe or anywhere else has completed efficacy studies. They have all done safety and immunogenicity studies, which is what we have also done in India for other candidates; and some other companies in India, who I won’t name, have also done but without any efficacy studies we don’t know if any vaccine works.

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