Adar Poonwalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India(SII) spoke about the pressures he was under over the production of COVID-19 vaccines to meet the ever-increasing demand in India as the country battles through a devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
India’s central government had granted Poonawalla “Y” level security on April 29, which meant that two personal security officers would accompany him at all times, and an armed guard would keep a vigil at his home.
Earlier this month, as per his request, the Indian government had also given a “stressed” Poonawalla an advanced loan of Rs3,000 crore ($400 million) to ramp up production.
In an interview to ‘The Times’, Adar Poonawalla claimed he flew to London before Britain banned travellers from India because of threats demanding vaccines. Poonwalla said, he has left the country along with his family to the UK due to “unprecedented” threats.
Further the Poonawalla said that he flew to London late last week before the United Kingdom banned travellers from India because he was being threatened. “I’m staying here for an extended time because I don’t want to go back to that situation.
Poonawalla is chief executive officer of the Serum Institute, which is the local maker of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca. He must be protected by the government, because his presence in the country is so important to produce the vaccines for India as well as for the whole world.
The stressful Poonawalla said, everything is falling on my shoulders but I can’t do it alone,” he said about the alleged threats. “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.”
“The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented,” Poonawalla said. “It’s overwhelming. Everyone feels they should get the vaccine. They can’t understand why anyone else should get it before them.”
Poonawalla said, it goes in a “very different direction” when he explains why he cannot possibly meet the vaccine demands. Poonawalla said he made the move because there was a grave threat to his life in India.
“I’m staying here 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…
‘Threats’ is an understatement…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.”
“They are saying if you don’t give us the vaccine it’s not going to be good,” he added. “It’s not foul language. It’s the tone. It’s the implication of what they might do if I don’t comply. It’s taking control. It’s coming over and basically surrounding the place [Serum Institute campus in Pune] and not letting us do anything unless we give in to their demands.”
Poonawalla also added, “There’s going to be an announcement in the next few days.” He said that the Serum Institute is hoping to increase production capacity of its Covishield vaccine from 2.5 billion to 3 billion doses a year within six months.
Poonawalla has said he was planning to start production in other countries amid struggles to meet supply commitments.
The 40-year-old told The Times that he cannot comment about the Narendra Modi government’s decision to allow Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand’s Haridwar and conduct Assembly elections amid the surge in infections. “If I give you the right answer, or any answer, my head would be chopped off,” Poonawalla said. “I can’t comment on the elections or Kumbh Mela. It’s too sensitive…I don’t think even God could have forecast it was going to get this bad.”