The Serum Institute of India may apply for an emergency licence for Covid-19 vaccine ‘Covishield’ based on safety data and results from the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate’s trials in the United Kingdom, Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla has said. In an exclusive interview to News18, Poonawalla said there are as yet no safety concerns but it would take 2-3 years to gauge the long-term effects of the vaccine. The CEO of the world’s largest vaccine maker by number of doses added that the shot would be made available to people at an affordable rate and batted for its inclusion in the Universal Immunisation Programme.
Is there a possibility of the Covid-19 vaccine being ready by 2020? When can the vaccination drive start?
It is too early to comment on the vaccine against Covid-19 getting ready by the end of this year. It depends on the success of the trials in proving the vaccine immunogenic and efficacious. If we don't go for an emergency licence, our trials should be over by January and then maybe we can launch in India in January subject to the UK trial.
That being said, since the UK trial is on the verge of completion, if they un-blind their study and share the data, while being confident that it is safe, we can explore the possibility of applying for an emergency licence with the Indian regulator.
If all of this works out, then we can expect the vaccine to be available in December 2020. However, the health ministry officials would be in a better position to confirm based on results.
What is the data from the trials showing? Is early data positive? Is this a single dose vaccine?
The current data shows that there are no immediate concerns pertaining to this vaccine (Covishield). So far, thousands of people have had it in India and abroad with no safety concerns. However, it will take 2-3 years to ascertain the long-term effects of the vaccine. This is a 2-dose vaccine, the gap between doses is 28 days.
What about the cost of the vaccine?
We are in conversation with the government regarding the cost of the vaccine and it is too soon to confirm. But it will be quite affordable for sure.
What is your take on the vaccine being brought under the Universal Immunisation Programme?
Since the pandemic has caused global shutdown, it has shown the importance of a vaccine for this disease and, therefore, I believe that it should be brought under the Universal Immunisation Programme.
You had quoted a figure of Rs 80,000 crore. The government says the funds required are less than the amount you quoted. What is your point of view on the kind of finances required to inoculate a billion-plus people?
I would not like to comment on this further. This has already been addressed by the government and they have assured that they have enough funds for the Covid vaccines.
When, do you think, healthy adults will get the vaccine? They clearly fall in the bottom of the prioritisation list.
The prioritisation of the distribution of the vaccine lies with the government bodies and health ministry overall. However, based on the plans being discussed, young and old adults as well as frontline workers are expected to be prioritised.
What about the manufacturing capacity of the Serum Institute of India? How many doses are you looking at?
We aim to initially manufacture 60-70 million doses, and to escalate manufacturing further up to 100 million doses per month.