Adar Poonawalla, Chief Executive Officer of Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's largest vaccine maker by volume, on March 5 said the manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines were facing a global shortage of raw materials because a US law is blocking the export of certain key items.
"There are a lot of bags, filters and other critical items that manufacturers need. For example, the Novavax vaccine. We're a major manufacturer, and for it, we need these items from the US. Now the US has chosen to invoke the Defense Act, in which there is a sub-clause which prevents the export of critical raw materials required for the local vaccine manufacturers," Poonwalla said at a World Bank panel discussion.
"Now this really needs to be looked at because if we're talking about building capacity all over the world, sharing of these critical raw materials, which just can't be replaced in a matter of six months or a year, is going to become a critical limiting factor," Poonwalla said.
SII is manufacturing and distributing Novavax COVID-19 vaccine under a licensing agreement.
Poonwalla said the export ban on certain critical ingredients would need some discussion with the (US President Joe) Biden administration to explain to them that there's enough to go around and have free global access.
In November last year, Pfizer said it will cut short its COVID-19 vaccine production target by half, citing raw material crunch. The company had earlier planned to roll out over 1.2 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines in 2021 and 100 million doses by 2020-end. Both these targets were later reduced to half due to raw material shortage in the US and Europe.
Concerned over the shortages, the Biden administration invoked the use of the Defense Production Act to boost supplies needed to make Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines. Biden has promised to administer 100 million vaccination shots in his first 100 days in office and laid out plans to buy 600 million doses, enough to vaccinate much of the US population.
Vaccines contain ingredients such as antiseptic liquids, antiviral agents, sterile water and some elements of virus DNA that are important to create antibodies.
Poonawalla said that despite the constraints, SII had distributed 90 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to 51 countries in the past two months, a record for the company. It was granted emergency authorisation by Indian regulators in early January.