Stopped COVID-19 vaccine production as millions of doses unsold: Adar Poonawalla

The Serum Institute of India CEO said that they were sitting on over 200 million doses and had stopped production on December 31, 2021.
Representative image of a covishield vial
Representative image of a covishield vial
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The Serum Institute of India has stopped producing its COVID-19 vaccine since the last day of December 2021 as it has been sitting on millions of unsold vaccines after the vaccination momentum has ebbed, its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Adar Poonawalla said on Friday, April 23. Poonawalla also warned against the return to "the business as usual" approach of the administration in the national capital, saying "we can't afford to put a price tag on the life of a citizen" as the pandemic is "not behind us yet nor we know by when it will be".

He also called for speeding up the decision to vaccinate young kids and said, “If they can be given other immunisation vaccines, why not for COVID-19, the end of which nobody knows as of now.”

"Since the vaccine intake has been coming down, there has been a lot of unsold inventories with us. We stopped production on December 31, 2021. Currently, we are sitting on over 200 million doses. I have offered this to anyone willing to pick them up for free. But there hasn't been a good response to that either. Seems there is vaccine fatigue among the people now as even after the price was slashed to Rs 225, there has been no major uptake," Poonawalla said at the Times Network India Economic Conclave.

Defending his call for lowering the gap between second and third doses to six months from nine months at present, he said it's needed as, "We can't put a price tag on the life of a person be it an adult or a child. Another important reason is that after six months, the antibodies come down. So it is better to go for the third dose within six months."

"This is something many studies have verified and therefore many foreign governments have made the booster dose mandatory. Already, many countries have made booster doses mandatory for travel. This means those who were vaccinated by August or September last year will not be able to travel outside the country. Therefore, my suggestion to the government is for a six month gap for the third dose," he said.

On the need for vaccinating kids in the 5-11 age bracket, he said, "My point is we can't put a price tag on the life of a person. Also, if an additional dose of vaccine can prevent hospitalisation, so let's do that as was evident from the third wave."

On the delays in decision making, Poonawalla rued that it seems the urgency is no longer there. “Unfortunately for the key people who are supposed to be taking decisions on time, the committees supposed to be meeting on time, it seems there is no urgency any longer. The momentum of the past that brought us so far here is lost. As you said it seems for them, it's business as usual. That's why there is no decision on the emergency use of Covovax coming in. What is more surprising is that the same vaccine has been approved by the regulator long ago and has also been in use in many European nations and in Australia." However, Poonawalla quickly added that the government at the highest level is fully seized of the matter, but "yes, at the ground level, there seems the urgency is lost".

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