CEO of Serum Institute Adar Poonawalla said also raised concerns about vaccine distribution in India given the country’s poor cold chain infrastructure to transport the vaccine safely
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India (SII) has warned of shortage of the COVID-19 vaccine for all till 2024 at least.
Pharmaceutical companies are not increasing production capacity quickly enough to inoculate the global population immediately, adding that it would take four to five years until “everyone on the planet” gets vaccinated, he told the Financial Times.
Poonawalla estimated a need for close to 15 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine if a two-dose programme – similar to the measles vaccinations drive is initiated.
He also raised concerns about vaccine distribution in India given the country’s poor cold chain infrastructure to transport the vaccine safely to its 1.4 billion people.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
“I still don’t see a proper plan on paper to do that [in India] beyond 400m doses. You don't want a situation with the vaccine where you have capacity for your country but you can’t consume it,” he noted.
SII has partnered with five global pharma companies including AstraZeneca to produce 1 billion doses of its vaccine candidate – half of which it has pledged to India; besides partnering with Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute to manufacture the Sputnik V vaccine.
Stating that the commitment “far exceeded other vaccine producers”, he acknowledged the need to be optimistic.
As the biggest COVID-19 vaccine producer by volume, Poonawalla’s assessment “casts serious doubts” on politicians claims of a vaccine by October, and added to fears that large pre-orders from the United States (US) and Europe would leave others at the back of the line, the paper said.
SII presently produces 1.5 billion doses of polio, measles and influenza vaccines for 170 countries.
Poonawalla’s time estimation matches WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan’s prediction that the pandemic would take four to five years to be controlled.Follow our full COVID-19 coverage here