India’s largest COVID vaccine maker may cut production by half


Adar Poonawalla, CEO of India’s largest vaccine maker Serum Institute of India (SII), has said in an interview that they may cut vaccine production by half.

“The company is in a dilemma as supply is more than demand for Covishield and it has to dial down the production. We will complete our existing orders to the government by next week. The company has written to the government for guidance on volumes needed,” he said in an interview.

“If the government doesn’t need it, SII will start exporting as I mentioned in Q1 of 2020. We have recently explained this to the government, and we have been discussing. So, I think we will wait a few days for them to have their internal discussion and get back to us,” Poonawalla added.

The CEO also said SII has 500 million doses of Covishield, half of which is finished product. The other half is bulk, which can be filled and finished in two months and has a shelf life of nine months. That is available on priority to the Indian government.

SII is the world’s largest producer of the AstraZeneca vaccine. SII’s contracts make India world’s largest producer of any COVID-19 vaccine after China, according to the independent policy collective, Global Commission for Post-Pandemic Policy.

Asked about the resumption of COVID-19 vaccines to the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, Poonawalla said he has reviewed orders of 400-500 million doses through COVAX and has been in touch with various African leaders.

He added that SII can produce 150 million doses of Covovax (another COVID-19 vaccine in partnership with US-based company Novavax) per month once granted licensure. Besides, the company is ready to produce 20-30 million doses per month of Sputnik Light.

The Indian government informed the Parliament last week that as communicated by SII, the current monthly production capacity of Covishield is 250-275 million doses. Also, the current monthly production capacity of Bharat Biotech International Limited, makers of Covaxin, is 50-60 million doses. This information was given by Bharati Pravin Pawar, minister of state for health.

Responding to a question on whether the government has ascertained if the two approved COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers have achieved optimum production capacity, Pawar had said, “Both companies have achieved close to 90 percent of present production capacity.”