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COVID-19 vaccine: Why Poonawalla wrote to Biden

By Sohini Das
April 17, 2021 08:21 IST
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'The US has invoked the Defence Act and banned export of raw materials.'
'This is as good as banning vaccines.'
Sohini Das reports.

A woman receives a dose of the Covishield vaccine in Prayagraj. Photograph: ANI Photo

IMAGE: A woman receives a dose of Serum Institute's Covishield vaccine in Prayagraj. Photograph: ANI Photo
 

Adar Poonawalla, the head of the world's largest vaccine maker (by doses), on Friday, April 16, urged US President Joe Biden to lift the embargo on export of vaccine raw materials. The restriction has hit production of vaccines in India.

In a tweet posted on social media tagging Biden, the Serum Institute of India CEO said 'Respected @POTUS, if we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the US, I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the US so that vaccine production can ramp up. Your administration has the details.'

It imports raw materials like filters, bags, media solutions from the US.

About a week ago Poonawalla had told this reporter that the US restrictions were hampering the production scale up of the Novavax vaccine at Pune.

Serum Institute has collaborated with US company Novavax to make its vaccine in Pune and also supply to India and globally. Serum Institute has also started bridging clinical trials of the vaccine here.

Serum Institute's target production is 50 million doses of Novavax vaccine per month once it reaches peak capacity.

"The US has invoked the Defence Act and banned export of raw materials. This is as good as banning vaccines. All vaccine producers are facing difficulties because of this," Poonawalla had said. It has already stalled the Novavax vaccine's production.

"Stock-piling of Novavax would happen to the tune of 50 per cent more if we had access to US raw materials. Till the month of April, it was not really coming in the way," he had said.

"From this month onwards, whatever we stockpile of Novavax would be half of what we could do, had it not been for US restrictions," the Serum Institute CEO added.

Serum Institute is now working on developing new vendors for raw materials it imports from the US like filters, bags, certain media solutions, etc.

Sources also indicated that Bharat Biotech is facing challenges in procuring the adjuvant used in the vaccine. Bharat Biotech is using an adjuvant from Kansas-based ViroVax for its vaccine.

Adjuvants are pharmacological or immunological agents that improve the immune response of a vaccine. They may be added to a vaccine to produce more antibodies and to ensure longer lasting immunity, thus minimising the dose of antigen needed.

Krishna Ella, CMD, Bharat Biotech, has said several raw materials to make vaccines were imported. The preservatives come from Germany and some raw material from the US.

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Sohini Das
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