Adar Poonawalla is finally back in India

Homing bird.
Homing bird.
Image: REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas
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India’s vaccine baron Adar Poonawalla is finally back in the country after leaving in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis.

On May 1, Poonawalla, the CEO of India’s largest vaccine maker Serum Institute of India, told The Times of London newspaper that he was going to be living in the UK for “an extended time.” He said he was pushed into the situation because of a grave threat to his life.

Today, Poonawalla tweeted a picture from SII’s vaccine facility in the city of Pune in Maharashtra. A company source confirmed that Poonawalla returned to India a few days ago.

The entrepreneur, who now heads one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturing companies, expressed great anxiety over the surge in demand for the vaccines from India, calling the level of expectation and aggression around vaccines “unprecedented.” At the time, the country was in the throes of a brutal second wave of Covid-19.

Adding to Poonawalla’s woes, in April the Indian government liberalized its vaccine procurement strategy, allowing states and private hospitals to directly buy shots from manufacturers for the 18-44 age group. This meant that companies like SII had to individually negotiate orders and delivery timelines with each state and private hospital. “Everyone feels they should get the vaccine. They can’t understand why anyone else should get it before them,” Poonawalla said at the time.

The government has since walked back this strategy and has said it will buy all vaccines directly from manufacturers, who can now reserve only 25% of their stock to sell directly to private hospitals.