Adar Poonawalla urged Biden to reverse his decision on the raw material ban



Serum Institute of India (SII) Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla has urged US President Joe Biden to lift the export ban on critical raw materials required for the production of COVID-19 vaccines.

In a tweet, Poonawalla urged the US President, “Respected @POTUS, if we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the US, I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S. so that vaccine production can ramp up. Your administration has the details.”

The SII CEO’s request was made in view of the US decision to curb the export of raw materials critical for vaccine production invoking the Defense Production Act.

Notably, the SII is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume and is widely seen as a key player in the production of doses to protect the global population against the COVID-19 virus. But in the wake of the Defense Production Act, the pharma company, which is the principal supplier of COVID vaccines for the Indian government, is reportedly facing a shortage of raw materials critical for vaccine production.

With the implementation of the Defense Production Act, the US pharma companies cannot export either the medicines or the raw materials needed to make those medicines to other nations, including India.

The intention behind this Act was to increase the production of vaccines by end of May to help vaccinate more and more people in the country.

Last year in November, American pharmaceutical company Pfizer cut short its vaccine production target by half, citing a shortage of raw material. Pfizer had earlier planned to roll out over 1.2 billion shots in 2021 but reduced the target by half due to raw material shortage in the United States and Europe.

The raw materials that SII imports from the US include filters, bags, and adjuvant. An adjuvant is a substance that is used to increase the efficacy of a vaccine and helps the immune system generate antibodies. The disruption in the supply of adjuvant could hamper the production of vaccines for a longer period.

The Serum Institute has paused exports to COVAX after a devastating surge of Covid-19 cases in India resulted in increased domestic demand.

India logged in a record 2,17,353 new Covid-19 cases as many states grappled with shortages of hospital beds, oxygen, medicines and vaccine shots. The daily new cases in the deadly second wave took the overall tally to 1.42 crore.

The SII chief had said the unavailability of the raw materials, such as the specific medium needed to grow microorganisms, would prevent Serum Institute from scaling up the production of the vaccine developed by Novavax.

The firm had been planning to make up to 40 million shots of the vaccine monthly.

Ramping up the production of this shot could also help India.

In a recent interview with a news channel, Poonawalla admitted that existing production capacities at SII’s Pune plant are “very stressed”, adding that he wanted this to increase but that “will require significant investment and time, and, now, an uninterrupted supply of raw materials”.

Notably, India is immunizing people above 45 years of age with either of two vaccines — SII’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.