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Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India (SII), has reached out to US President Joe Biden on Twitter, urging him to lift the embargo on raw material exports from the US to help vaccine manufacturers outside the country ramp up production.
Poonawalla on Friday tweeted, “if we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the U.S., 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 US President has used the US Defense Production Act to prevent export of critical materials required for vaccine production, such as equipment, machinery and related supplies, from the US. This was done to speed up manufacturing in the US, enable Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer and Moderna to expedite delivery of doses to all US citizens above 18 years by May-end. The US has already administered 135 million doses and the new administration has set a target of vaccinating another 200 million Americans in the first 100 days of the new administration.
Poonawalla has repeatedly been drawing attention to the US ban on export of key raw materials and warned that this could hurt the production in India. While Covishield production would not be affected, Poonawalla has cautioned that the manufacturing of second Covid-19 vaccine that SII was working on with US company Novavax would be severely impacted. SII has started work on stockpiling Covovax vaccine.
SII has committed to make 1 billion doses of Covavax and the company has to supply 500 million doses of this globally through GAVI.
Novavax is carrying out Phase-III trials across the world, and SII, too, has started Phase-III trials in India. Novavax vaccine is expected to get Emergency Use Authorization in the second quarter of 2021. In anticipation of this approval, SII has started manufacturing Covavax at its Pune facility. Poonawalla has said the Covovax could be launched in September, but these plans could be affected if the US continued to hoard raw materials and ban the exports.
Ban on exports of consumables such as filters, bags and cell culture media and adjuvant are hampering production. SII currently has capacity to make 70 million doses and is trying to ramp it up to 100 million by June-July. India’s other main vaccine maker, Bharat Biotech, has also been facing raw material shortage and is unable to increase production from 5 to 12 million doses.
Apart from raw material shortage, the vaccine makers are also seeking funding support from the Government of India. SII has sought Rs 3,000-crore funding in the form of grants from the government to increase its production capacity beyond 100 million doses a month.