Coronavirus: Asia-Pacific

India 'first in line' for AstraZeneca/ Oxford vaccine

Researchers at the Serum Institute of India in Pune working on a coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University. PHOTO: NYTIMES
Researchers at the Serum Institute of India in Pune working on a coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW DELHI • India will be given first priority for the delivery of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine after its British developers claimed success, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer by volume has said, though New Delhi said it has not decided which vaccine to adopt.

The chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, Mr Adar Poonawalla, said the manufacturer has already produced 40 million doses of the vaccine so far.

"By January, we should have... 100 million doses is minimum, because we've already made 40 million doses," he told television broadcaster NDTV on Monday.

Mr Poonawalla, whose father founded the vaccine manufacturer, said he expected that some 90 per cent of Serum Institute's doses were to be sold to the Indian government at around 250 rupees (S$4.60) each.

"Most of that, 90 per cent, is what's going to go to the government of India and maybe 10 per cent in the private market at the higher price (of 1,000 rupees).

"We're hoping for this emergency use licence so that by the end of December, January, we can start rolling out some (doses)."

AstraZeneca and Oxford University said on Monday that their drug had proved, on average, to be 70 per cent effective at stopping the coronavirus after testing it on 23,000 people.

The Oxford drug can be transported easily at normal refrigerator temperatures, unlike some of the other candidates which require extremely cold storage.

AstraZeneca said it planned to produce up to three billion doses of the vaccine next year if it passes the remaining regulatory hurdles.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned yesterday any Covid-19 vaccine could lead to side-effects in some people, as even popular medicines do, and that the government would only go by science in finalising one for the country.

Mr Modi said it was not yet known which vaccine would be launched in India and at what price, but urged states to work with the federal government to keep distribution infrastructure such as cold storages ready.

The Serum Institute in August struck a deal with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to produce up to 100 million Covid-19 doses of two different potential vaccines from AstraZeneca and US biotech company Novavax. Once the vaccines gain regulatory approval, the doses could be produced as early as the first half of next year for distribution to low-and middle-income countries, Gavi said.

India's Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had told India Today TV earlier on Monday that he expected between 250 million and 300 million Indians would be immunised by September next year.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2020, with the headline 'India 'first in line' for AstraZeneca/ Oxford vaccine'. Subscribe