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Home / HTLS / HTLS 2020: Vaccine for general public in April-May if targets met, says Poonawalla

HTLS 2020: Vaccine for general public in April-May if targets met, says Poonawalla

These efficacy results will pave the way for the companies to seek an emergency use licence – the government approval that will ultimately allow the first batch of shots to be given to people. This will likely be for health workers and vulnerable people by as early as January or February, said Poonawalla, while speaking over video at the 18th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.

htls Updated: Nov 20, 2020, 12:02 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Adar Poonawalla, CEO and Owner, Serum Institute of India, in conversation with Sanchita Sharma, Editor Health and Science, the Hindustan Times, during the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit (HTLS) 2020, in New Delhi, India, on November 19, 2020. (HT Photo)
Adar Poonawalla, CEO and Owner, Serum Institute of India, in conversation with Sanchita Sharma, Editor Health and Science, the Hindustan Times, during the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit (HTLS) 2020, in New Delhi, India, on November 19, 2020. (HT Photo)

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for the coronavirus disease could become available for the general public by April-May next year and is likely to cost around ₹500-600 for a dose, Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla said on Thursday, adding that he expects the much-awaited efficacy results (from an ongoing UK trial of the vaccine) to be reported in the coming three-four weeks.

These efficacy results will pave the way for the companies to seek an emergency use licence – the government approval that will ultimately allow the first batch of shots to be given to people. This will likely be for health workers and vulnerable people by as early as January or February, said Poonawalla, while speaking over video at the 18th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.

“The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is proving to work very well, even in the elderly which was a concern early on. It elicits a good T-cell response and a good antibody response as well,” said Poonawalla. “In about 2-3 weeks, we are told that the efficacy results of the vaccine will be in and the trial will be unblinded.”

The vaccine is India’s best hope for an early access to a Covid-19 shot since it is among the earliest front-runners in clinical trials, has largely turned out to be safe, can be stored and distributed with relative ease and, most crucially, is being manufactured by SII, an Indian company, which has committed to reserving half of the doses for the country.

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But, Poonawalla warned, vaccinating all of India will be mammoth challenge and the process is unlikely to be completed till 2024. His remarks come on a day when Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said the government was in a position to “confidently tells Indians that in a couple of months, we should be able to deliver a vaccine to the people of India”.

Since November 9, there has been a flurry of good news regarding coronavirus vaccines with two American pharma companies, Pfizer (with Germany partner BioNTech) and Moderna, announcing that their candidates have shown a better-than-expected 95% efficacy. India, however, does not yet have a deal with either of these companies, whose products are expected to be costlier and harder to store.

“As soon as the UK authorities and European authorities approve it for emergency use, we will apply for permission in India,” Poonawalla said while referring to the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate. The initial permission, he added, “would be for health care workers and vulnerable population like the elderly since that is how emergency use licensing works. For general public, it will take another 3-4 months”.

The vaccine candidate is one of five in clinical trials in India. SII, founded in 1966 and now the world’s largest vaccine maker by volume, has a licence from Oxford-AstraZeneca to produce a billion doses for low and middle income countries including India, with 400 million doses committed by the end of the year.

Earlier, while speaking at the opening session of the Leadership Summit, Dr Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University School of Public Health, and Dr Randeep Guleria, the director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), said the recent developments on the vaccine front were better than expected and the challenge will now be to vaccinate the billions of people around the world.

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Poonawalla said SII is producing around 50 million doses a month at present, with a doubling in capacity expected by February. Talks with the Indian government for procurement are underway, he said, while adding: “They want 300 million doses by July. We are gearing up to offer that sort of volume to India and have few hundred million for Covax.”

Covax is a World Health Organization-led non-profit arrangement that aims to fund and procure Covid-19 vaccines for low and middle income countries.

In all, SII is producing or plans to produce five coronavirus vaccines. In addition to the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate, the others are from Novavax and Codagenix, besides two that SII is developing.

“Next year, the first launch will likely be the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate after which every four-five months, we plan to launch a vaccine. We will probably launch one every quarter with the one from Codagenix being the last,” Poonawalla said.

On a question by an attendee at the virtual summit, Poonawalla said India has adequate logistics infrastructure for vaccine delivery. “We already have the cold chain infrastructure that we use for the universal immunisation programme. Private players and my team will also help in extending cold chain infrastructure,” he said.

Supply chain logistics has largely been seen as a challenge, particularly since the Pfizer-BioNTech shot requires temperatures of -70 to -80 degrees Celsius.

Also Watch: How can we prepare for future pandemics? Adar Poonawalla answers at #HTLS2020

 

The pharma entrepreneur also spoke on pricing, saying India’s volume requirements are likely to allow it to procure shots at a much cheaper rate than other countries.

“The vaccine will probably end up costing around $5-6 but in India, it will likely be around $3-4 because there are large volumes. The general public will probably have to pay around ₹500-600. This will be far cheaper than some of the cheapest vaccines we make,” he said.

He also spoke about the prices for global vaccines stabilising over time.

“Indian vaccine prices will probably be half of what we are seeing in the West. Ultimately, the prices of most coronavirus vaccines will likely come down,” he said, while adding that he expects prices to stabilise in “six months to a year”.

“Initially, there might not be an option for countries to procure expensive vaccines but once production picks up from different places, prices will come down,” he said.

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