Serum Institute India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla (Image: Twitter/@adarpoonawalla)
After receiving 'Y' category security, Adar Poonawala - the chief of Serum Institute of India (SII) - spoke to a London newspaper about receiving threat calls from India's most powerful men and politicians including “chief ministers…, heads of business conglomerates and others”.
“Threats is an understatement,” Mr Poonawalla told The Times of London. “The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented. It’s overwhelming. Everyone feels they should get the vaccine. They can’t understand why anyone else should get it before them,” he said.
“They are saying if you don’t give us the vaccine it’s not going to be good… It’s not foul language. It’s the tone. It’s the implication of what they might do if I don’t comply. It’s taking control. It’s coming over and basically surrounding the place and not letting us do anything unless we give in to their demands,” Poonawalla added.
Poonawala flew to London to be with his wife and children before the UK barred travellers from India on April 23.
“I’m staying here an extended time because I don’t want to go back to that situation,” he added. “Everything falls on my shoulders, but I can’t do it alone. … I don’t want to be in a situation where you are just trying to do your job, and just because you can’t supply the needs of X, Y or Z you really don’t want to guess what they are going to do.”
The interview took social media by storm. After the interview, the CEO of the vaccine maker company tweeted about an "excellent meeting" with all the partners and stakeholders. "Meanwhile, pleased to state that COVISHIELD’s production is in full swing in Pune. I look forward to reviewing operations upon my return in a few days,” he added.
According to the newspaper, by the time the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was approved in January, the SII increased its annual production capacity from 1.5 to 2.5 billion doses at a cost of USD 800 million, and stockpiled 50 million doses of Covishield.
The company began exporting to 68 countries, including Britain, as India seemed to have been over the worse, until the situation worsened in recent weeks.
Rejecting the charges of profiteering from the vaccine, Poonawala said that it is “totally incorrect” and added that Covishield will still be “the most affordable vaccine on the planet” even at a higher price. "
"We have done the best we can without cutting corners or doing anything wrong or profiteering. I’ll wait for history to judge,” he said.
“I’ve always had this sense of responsibility to India and the world because of the vaccines we were making, but never have we made a vaccine so needed in terms of saving lives,” he added.
The price of the Covishield vaccine supplied to the state governments will be reduced to Rs 300 per dose with immediate effect, Poonawala said on April 28. SII earlier priced Covishield at Rs 400 per dose for the state governments and Rs 600 for the private hospitals.
Answering who is responsible for India's second wave of infections that has gripped the country, Poonawala said that “If I give you the right answer, or any answer, my head would be chopped off… I can’t comment on the elections or Kumbh Mela. It’s too sensitive… I don’t think even God could have forecast it was going to get this bad.”[Inputs from PTI]