India’s largest vaccine maker is pitching for vaccine equity with an eye on the next pandemic.
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India (SII), wants a global pandemic treaty that would ensure more equitable access to vital healthcare. He hopes to circulate a draft treaty to this end during closed-door meetings, according to an NDTV report on the World Economic Forum’s 2022 meet in Davos, Switzerland.
Poonawalla is attending the annual event a year after India’s devastating second wave of covid-19 put him in the spotlight in the backdrop of the country’s vaccination programme.
The government’s apparent lack of vision in placing orders for vaccines, along with the many hurdles in procuring raw materials and delays in ramping up production, culminated in an acute shortage of covid-19 vaccines in India. Covishield, the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by SII, comprised the largest chunk of covid-19 vaccines administered in the country.
Facing insurmountable pressure under these circumstances, including alleged threats to his life, Poonawalla briefly moved to the UK in May 2021.
A year on, he hopes the next pandemic, should there be one, is handled differently.
Tackling the next pandemic
Poonawalla told NDTV that his draft treaty addresses the shortcomings of vaccine production and rollout globally right now.
The draft recommends, among other things, free flow of raw materials and vaccines, sharing of intellectual property on a commercial basis that rewards the innovator, a global agreement of regulatory standards, and universal travel vaccine certificates on a digital platform.
The idea of a travel vaccine certificate has become a particularly sticky point for Poonawalla and the Indian government after the UK initially refused entry without quarantine for people who had received two doses of Covishield. This affected not only Indians vaccinated with Covishield, but also travellers from African countries that relied on SII’s vaccine supply.
This rule existed despite the fact that other brand names of the AstraZeneca vaccine were approved for use in the UK, and hence eligible for quarantine-free travel into the country.
Poonawalla had also said in 2021 that production at his units was suffering because of supply chain issues and export bans in the US on vaccine raw materials.
In 2022, however, SII has an “oversupply” of vaccines, he told CNBC-TV18. So much so that SII may have to destroy up to 200 million doses that will expire in August and September.