Poonawalla, in his interview to the UK daily ‘The Times’, opened up about receiving aggressive calls from some of the most powerful people in India, demanding supplies of Covishield.
On May 1, as India continued to battle the massive wave of Covid-19 infections, Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla spoke out about the pressures he was under over the production of COVID-19 vaccines to meet the ever-increasing demand in the country.
Poonawalla, in his interview to the UK daily ‘The Times’, opened up about receiving aggressive calls from some of the most powerful people in India, demanding supplies of Covishield — the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that the Serum Institute is producing in India.
In his first comments since he was provided with ‘Y’ category security by the Indian government earlier this week, Poonawalla said: “The calls come from some of the most powerful men in India. They come from the chief minister of Indian states, heads of business conglomerates and others demanding instant supply of Covishield. “Threats” is an understatement.”
This pressure was one of the main reason for him to fly into London to be with his wife and children, the 40-year-old entrepreneur said.
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“I’m staying here (London) an extended time because I don’t want to go back to that situation. Everything falls on my shoulders but I can’t do it alone…I don’t want to be in a situation where you are just trying to do your job, and just because you can’t supply the needs of X, Y or Z you really don’t want to guess what they are going to do,” Poonawalla told the newspaper.
“The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented. It’s overwhelming. Everyone feels they should get the vaccine. They can’t understand why anyone else should get it before them,” the Serum CEO said.
Poonawalla, when asked whether election rallies and Kumbh added to India’s COVID-19 crisis, decided to steer clear. “If I give you the right answer, or any answer, my head would be chopped off… I can’t comment on the elections or Kumbh mela. It’s too sensitive,” he said.
The Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO also indicated that his visit to the UK is also linked to business plans to expand vaccine manufacturing to countries outside India, which may include the likes of the UK.
When asked about Britain as one of the production bases outside India, he said: “There’s going to be an announcement in the next few days.”
“We’re really gasping for all the help we can get,” Poonawalla said in the ‘Times’ interview.
“I don’t think even God could have forecast it was going to get this bad,” he said.
When questioned about his criticism of profiteering as the cost of Covishield was recently hiked, he termed it as “totally incorrect” and added that Covishield will still be “the most affordable vaccine on the planet” even at a higher price.
“We have done the best we can without cutting corners or doing anything wrong or profiteering. I’ll wait for history to judge,” he said.
“I’ve always had this sense of responsibility to India and the world because of the vaccines we were making, but never have we made a vaccine so needed in terms of saving lives,” he added.