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Chief executive of Serum Institute of India (SII) Adar Poonawalla has said that it would take at least four to five years to immunise the world against COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2. Warning of a shortage of coronavirus vaccine until the end of 2024, the CEO of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer also said that pharmaceutical firms are not increasing production capacity swiftly enough to vaccine the entire world’s population.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Poonawalla said, "It’s going to take four to five years until everyone gets the vaccine on this planet."  Poonawala had earlier predicted that if the coronavirus shot is a two-dose vaccine, as is the case with measles or rotavirus, then the world would require 15 billion doses.

Poonawalla said that the commitment far exceeded the capacity of other vaccine producers. “I know the world wants to be optimistic on it .... [but] I have not heard of anyone coming even close to that [level] right now,” he told the publication.

The family-run Serum Institute has partnered with five international pharmaceutical firms, including AstraZeneca and Novavax, to develop a Covid-19 vaccine and committed to produce 1bn doses, of which it has pledged 50 per cent to India. The company may also partner with Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute to manufacture the Sputnik vaccine. 

The company is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume, producing 1.5bn doses of vaccines annually for use in more than 170 countries to protect against many infectious diseases, such as polio, measles and influenza.

As part of its agreement with AstraZeneca, the company will aim to produce vaccine doses that cost around $3 for 68 countries and under its agreement with Novavax, for 92 countries.

Poonawalla, son of Cyrus Poonawalla, India’s seventh-richest billionaire, played down fears over the pause in the AstraZeneca trials last week after a participant fell ill, saying it was “very normal”. “We’re doing a . . . raise and diluting equity so that we have enough capital to manage the raw materials and equipment we need in the next one or two years to operate at this scale,” he told Financial Times.

Poonawalla had in Apri ordered 600m glass vials and other particulars to gear up for the mass manufacturing of the Covid-19 vaccine. However, he expressed worries over distribution in India, which is witnessing a rapid rise in the number of coronaviruses infections, and said that the process would be difficult as there is an absence of a sophisticated cold chain system to transport the vaccine safely to its 1.4 billion people.

“I still don’t see a proper plan on paper to do that [in India] beyond 400m doses,” he was quoted as saying.
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