Adar Poonawalla, managing director of the Serum Institute of India, told the Financial Times that pharmaceutical companies are not increasing their production capacity fast enough to immunize the world’s population in less time.
“It will take four to five years for everyone to receive the vaccine on this planet,” said Poonawalla, who estimated that while the Covid-19 vaccine is a two-dose vaccine – like measles or rotavirus – the world will need 15 billion doses.
Based in the city of Pune, in western India, the family-run Serum Institute has partnered with five international pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca and Novavax, to develop a Covid-19 vaccine and is committed to producing 1 billion doses, of which it has promised half in India. . The company may also partner with the Russian research institute Gamaleya to manufacture the Sputnik vaccine.
Mr Poonawalla said the commitment far exceeded the capacity of other vaccine producers. “I know the world wants to be optimistic about this. . .[but]I haven’t heard anyone come close to this [level] now, ”he said on a video call from London.
Its assessment casts serious doubts on claims by politicians who have pledged vaccines by next month, as concerns grow that large pre-orders from the United States and Europe will leave developing countries at bay. end of the queue.
Mr. Poonawalla’s perspective on vaccine production and distribution is particularly relevant, given that the Serum Institute is responsible for producing vaccine doses for much of the developing world.
The company is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume, producing 1.5 billion doses of vaccine each year for use in more than 170 countries to protect against many infectious diseases, such as polio, measles and the flu.
Under its deal with AstraZeneca, the company will aim to produce doses of the vaccine that will cost around $ 3 for 68 countries and under its deal with Novavax, for 92 countries.
In May, World Health Organization chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan predicted that it would take four to five years for the pandemic to be brought under control, adding that a vaccine “seems the best so far. solution ”, but it was not a silver bullet. Other important factors are containment measures and viral mutations that could render a vaccine ineffective.
Assuming there are two or more vaccines that protect at least 75% against infection, three-quarters of the world’s population could be vaccinated by mid-2023, said Peter Hale, executive director of the Foundation for Vaccine Research in the United States. “This should be enough to curb the spread of infection and block the pandemic – but not enough to send the virus to the trash of history,” Hale added.
Mr Poonawalla, son of Cyrus Poonawalla, India’s seventh richest billionaire, played down fears over the halt in AstraZeneca trials last week after a participant fell ill, saying it was ” very normal ”.
To increase his ability to meet his $ 1 billion dose target, Poonawalla said he was speaking to investors such as the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, Abu Dhabi’s investment holding company ADQ and US private equity firm TPG to raise $ 600 million. PIF and TPG declined to comment. ADQ could not be reached.
“We do one. . . raise and dilute equity so that we have enough capital to handle the raw materials and equipment we need over the next one or two years to operate at this scale, ”he said.
In April, Mr Poonawalla placed orders for 600m glass vials and other materials to prepare for mass production of the vaccine. Still, he fears that distribution in India, the country with the fastest growing number of coronavirus cases in the world, will be difficult because there is no sophisticated cold chain system to transport the vaccine safely to its 1.4 billion inhabitants.
“I still don’t see a suitable plan on paper to do this [in India] beyond 400 m of doses, ”he said. “You don’t want a situation with the vaccine where you have a capacity for your country but you can’t consume it.”
Additional reporting by Hannah Kuchler in New York and Simeon Kerr in Dubai
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