Asia Coronavirus (COVID-19) World

Mon 03 May 2021:

Adar Poonawalla should be a walking advertisement for India’s pharmaceutical prowess. Instead the billionaire owner and chief executive of the Pune-based Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has become a symbol of India’s fraught ties with its private sector.

Before Covid-19, Serum wasn’t a household name even inside the country. Now the unlisted company is India’s best hope to get out of its Covid-19 crisis. New cases tallied 392,488 in the past 24 hours; in Goa state 40% of tests are returning positive. The manufacturer’s monthly production of up to 70 million doses of Covishield, the local name for AstraZeneca’s vaccine, accounts for 90% of nearly doses administered.


That makes complaints from the 40 year-old Mr Poonawalla, son of the company’s founder, particularly distressing. In an interview with The Times newspaper, he claimed that tycoons and politicians are threatening him in order to secure jabs. India had given Mr Poonawalla security protection days before the Times interview was published on Saturday, in which he said the pressure made him want to remain in London for an extended period. He’s since indicated he will return within a few days.

In April, the Serum Institute of India sought additional security for CEO Adar Poonawalla as he was receiving threats over the vaccine. After the ministry of home affairs provided him with Y category security, Adar flew to London to be with his wife and children. In an interview with The Times, he talked about receiving aggressive calls from “some of the most powerful people in India”, demanding the supply of vaccines.

Stating in an interview that he was staying in the UK for an extended time, he had said, “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.”

The root of the problem is New Delhi’s vaccine procurement strategy. India decided in April to allow state governments and private hospitals to purchase up to half of the vaccines stocks, although under the new plan they could end up paying double or more what government has paid. That effectively foists the unenviable responsibility of rationing a limited supply of life-saving vaccines onto private companies. It would be better if the government centralised distribution.

Mr Poonawalla hasn’t helped his image by describing smaller profit margins as philanthropy. But a man charged with saving Indian lives is living in fear, and planning further overseas expansion. It’s a terrible look for India.

with Reuters | File Photo: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with chief executive of  Serum Institute Adar Poonawalla.




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