Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

Setbacks for Serum Institute leaves world short on vaccine

The Indian company has been dogged by setbacks, from a ban on exports to factory fire, hampering its ability to fill orders

- Bloomberg

LONDON: Around the world, from Bangladesh to Nepal to Rwanda, vulnerable hotspots have been grappling with stalled Covid-19 vaccinatio­n programs as they run out of doses. Many of those shortages can be traced back to a single company: The Serum Institute of India.

The world’s largest vaccine maker, Serum was last year named a top supplier of Covid shots to Covax, the World Health Organizati­on-backed initiative aimed at securing an equitable global rollout. But the Indian company has been dogged by setbacks, from a ban on exports to a factory fire, hampering its ability to fill orders.

Covax has pledged to send shots to some 92 countries, but has so far received only 30 million of the minimum 200 million doses it ordered from Serum, which was to provide the bulk of its early supply. Serum’s travails have now become a key illustrati­on of how the effort to inoculate against Covid has failed the developing world, and a cautionary tale for becoming over-reliant on one manufactur­er amid a global crisis.

The shortages come as the WHO and public health experts warn that low levels of vaccinatio­n in poorer nations could fuel the emergence of dangerous variants and lengthen the global pandemic. Other manufactur­ers have also had trouble meeting targets or ramping up production of Covid shots, yet Serum’s shortfalls are particular­ly consequent­ial because Covax and emerging countries were counting on it so heavily.

The company has been unable to send any shots overseas since April, when the Indian government banned Covid vaccine exports amid the country’s devastatin­g second wave. But some of Serum’s problems began long before.

Last year, Serum’s chief executive officer, Adar Poonawalla, pledged that his vaccine producing colossus would churn out 400 million doses of Astrazenec­a Plc’s coronaviru­s shot for low and middle-income countries by the end of 2020. A month into 2021, he said it had manufactur­ed only 70 million shots because the company had been uncertain about when it would receive a license from India and didn’t have enough warehouse space.

A string of nations had also entered into direct contracts with Serum and are now racing to find new suppliers. In Nepal -which is struggling with a severe outbreak that’s even reached base camp of Mount Everest -the government says it’s received only half of the 2 million shots it ordered directly from Serum, based in the city of Pune. The rest were supposed to arrive by March.

“We are struggling with the shortage of vaccines,” said Tara Nath Pokhrel, the director of the family welfare division at Nepal’s health ministry.

In total, the nation of 28 million people says it’s received only 2.38 million doses: 1 million directly from Serum, another 1 million in grant aid from India, and the rest from Covax. Nepal had been expecting 13 million doses altogether from Covax. But those flows have dried up given Covax was relying heavily on Serum for supply and the Indian company is no longer exporting because of the government restrictio­ns.

The decision to choose Serum as a major Covax supplier “was based, largely, on the company’s massive production capacity, ability to deliver at low cost and the fact that its vaccine was one of the earliest to gain WHO emergency use listing,” said Seth Berkley, chief executive officer at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which has been facilitati­ng Covax and helping fund its orders. Berkley says Serum’s manufactur­ing capacity is now expanding, which will help India. Still, Covax and many developing countries are scrambling to find new sources of vaccines after Serum said in recent weeks that exports are unlikely to resume until the end of 2021 given the needs of its overwhelme­d homeland.

 ?? RAJ K RAJ/HT PHOTO ?? A health worker inoculates a woman with a dose of Covishield vaccine at a centre in West Viond Nagar, New Delhi on Wednesday.
RAJ K RAJ/HT PHOTO A health worker inoculates a woman with a dose of Covishield vaccine at a centre in West Viond Nagar, New Delhi on Wednesday.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India