India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has announced that it is stuck with around half a billion doses of the Covishield jab due to a lack of orders, forcing the company to halve production.
Speaking to Indian TV network CNBC-TV18 on Wednesday, Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla claimed that the company is facing a “dilemma” that it could have “never imagined to be in” during the pandemic.
Having fully vaccinated half of India’s eligible adults, the company is currently sitting on a stockpile of around 500 million doses of the locally-manufactured AstraZeneca Covid jab.
While the widespread production of the vaccine has allowed India to speed up its rollout, with Covishield accounting for 90% of the 1.3 billion doses administered in the country, the company is close to completing all of its domestic orders.
“We have no other orders at hand. So I am going to be reducing the production by at least 50% to begin with on a monthly basis until orders again pick up either in India and the world,” Poonawalla stated.
The lack of orders comes despite the World Health Organization (WHO) raising concerns about the impact of vaccine inequality in African nations, where their inability to secure doses leaves them facing a situation in which mutated strains of Covid can develop among their largely unvaccinated populations.
In October, more than 160 former leading global figures called on Western nations to distribute their surplus Covid vaccines to poorer nations to help provide greater worldwide protection against Covid amid the rise of the Omicron variant.
Despite the Serum Institute halting vaccine exports earlier in 2021 to allow it speed up vaccinations across India amid a rise in infections, the company is the largest supplier of Covid jabs to the international Covax distribution scheme. However, according to Poonawalla, Covax orders have been “very slow.”
The situation led Poonawalla to claim that the slow vaccination drive in low and middle income countries was not due to their inability to secure doses but down to their poor infrastructure, limiting their ability to distribute jabs.