Pune: Serum Institute of India's head Adar Poonawalla has revealed that the vaccine producer is in a dilemma over reducing the production of the Covishield vaccine due to lack of government orders. The SII may have to halve its production at a time when the Omicron variant of Covid-19 has emerged and a possible new wave of infections is expected.
The SII CEO said that as there was "no other orders in hand so I am going to reduce the production by at least 50 per cent to begin with...on a monthly basis until the orders again pick up either in India or the world".
Poonawalla attributed the lack of orders in part to the fact that a large portion of India's population had already received the vaccination but warned that a situation like last year - where vaccine shortages prevailed after the company had cut down production - could not be allowed to happen again.
"Over the eight months when we could not export, other countries managed vaccine supplies from donations from the US and elsewhere and we have lost a lot of market share," he said in an interview to PTI.
"If they need more vaccines for the booster doses, we have already written to them (central government). Now it is their decision on the booster policy whether they will procure more and stockpile before the next surge happens if at all it comes. We are awaiting their directions," Poonawalla added.
The Serum Institute has written to the central government seeking more clarity on the issue.
"If [the government] needs more doses for boosters we have in stock, we can produce more. Just give us that guidance. That discussion is on at the moment," he opined.
Serum Institute currently has a stock of 500 million doses and is also set to partner with Russia to produce Sputnik Light, a single-dose Covid-19 vaccine. Last month, exports of the Covishield vaccine had resumed, with large doses being donated to the COVAX alliance which aims to get vaccines to some of the poorest countries around the world to tackle vaccine inequity.
"Half of that is finished product and half can be finished in a matter of two months and it has a shelf life of nine months," Poonawalla said about the vaccine stock in possession of the Serum Institute. "So we have to decide what to do with the stock. It is available on priority to India and if not, we will start exporting a lot more from quarter one of 2022," he stated.