Serum Institute of India Ltd., (SII), the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer and a key supplier of Covid-19 inoculations to developing countries, has stopped manufacturing batches of vaccines after its stockpile grew to 200 million doses, amid a global supply glut.
“We have got 200 million doses of stock. We had to shut down production in December,” said SII’s CEO, Adar Poonawalla, at the India Economic Conclave organized by Times Network on 22nd April, 2022. He added that he was concerned about wastage if the shots expired and had even offered to give free donations those in need.
However, warning against the return to the business-as-usual approach, Poonawalla said, “we can’t afford to put a price tag on the life of a citizen,” as the pandemic is not behind us yet. He also pointed out that the rising vaccine fatigue among the public was the main reason for the low off-take of the vaccines, even after the firm massively slashed the price from ₹600 to ₹225 per dose.
SII’s predicament underscores the vaccine oversupply that has crept up across a world that was once desperate for immunization against the coronavirus. With vaccine makers having invested greatly in massive production capacity over the past year, some of that has come online only after most countries covered much of their populations with two doses. The global adjustment to living with the virus – with the exception of Covid Zero-practising China and Hong Kong – has also diluted the urgency for booster shots.
The world doing an about turn from vaccine shortage to possible glut of Covid-19 vaccines is especially stark in India, which just a year ago slapped an export ban on SII and other local producers to ensure enough supply for the local population. India, the world’s third-most Covid-infected nation, has administered more than 1.87 billion shots so far as part of a double-dose regime for those aged 12 and above. India now allows all those above the age of 18 to take booster shots, and Poonawalla has urged wider expansion. He said that the GoI is also expected to cut the recommended time gap for a booster shot to six months (from nine months) after the second dose.
Poonawala said that SII, which is a core supplier for the WHO-backed Covax program that helps ensure vaccine supply to developing countries, is drafting a ‘Global Pandemic Treaty’ to bring about free flow and coordination of essential resources like raw materials for vaccine production in the next crisis. SII also cited protectionist measures in other countries that led to a shortage of raw materials as one reason it fell short of vaccine production goals at the height of the pandemic. SII manufactures the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc and Oxford University, as well as the shot from Novovax Inc. As is the case in most other countries, life in India has largely moved past the Covid era, though cases have been on the rise again, pushing capital New Delhi to reinstate a mask mandate in public spaces this week.