CEO of Serum Institute of India (SII) Adar Poonawalla on Thursday said the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine should be available for healthcare workers and elderly people by around February next year and by April for the general citizens. He said it will be priced at a maximum of Rs 1,000 for two necessary doses for the public, depending on the final trial results and regulatory approvals.
Poonawalla's remarks come on the back of a series of key developments in the race for a vaccine, with two US vaccines - by Pfizer and Moderna - showing 95%+ success rate in preliminary findings from their stage-3 trials, and the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine reporting 99% 'strong immune response' in elderly people, as per a study published in The Lancet.
"Probably by 2024, every Indian will get vaccinated," he said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit (HTLS), 2020. "It will probably take two or three years for every Indian to get inoculated, not just because of the supply constraints but because you need the budget, the vaccine, logistics, infrastructure and then, people should be willing to take the vaccine. So these are the factors that lead up to being able to vaccinate 80-90% of the population. It will be 2024 for everybody, if willing to take a two-dose vaccine, to be vaccinated," Poonawalla said.
Asked at what price the public will get it, he said it will be around USD 5-6 per dose with an MRP of around Rs 1,000 for the two necessary doses. "The government of India will be getting it at a far cheaper price at around USD 3-4 because it will be buying in a large volume and get access to the price that is similar to what COVAX has got. We are still pricing it far cheaper and more affordable than other vaccines we have in the market today," Poonawalla said.
Asked about the efficacy of the vaccine, he said the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is so far proving to work very well even in elderly people, which was a concern earlier. Poonawalla stated that as soon as the UK authorities and the European Medicines Evaluation Agency (EMEA) approve it for emergency use, it will apply to the drug controller for emergency use authorisation in India.
"But that will be for a limited use for frontline workers, healthcare workers and elderly people," he added. Children would have to wait a little longer till the safety data is out, but the good news is that COVID-19 is not so bad and serious for them, Poonawalla said. The SII chief said the Oxford vaccine is affordable, safe and stored at a temperature of two to eight degrees Celsius, which is an ideal temperature for it to be stored in the cold storages of India.
He said the SII plans to make about 10 crore doses per month from February. As regards how many doses would be provided to India, Poonawalla said talks are still going on and no agreement has been arrived at in this regard. "India wants around 400 million doses by July. I do not know if it will take all from the Serum Institute. We are gearing up to offer that kind of volume to India and still have a few 100 million to offer to COVAX by July and August. No agreement so far," he said.
Poonawala said the SII is not entering into any agreement with other countries at this moment as India is its priority. "We have not signed and committed anything else beyond Bangladesh at the moment. We really do not want to partner right now with many countries because we will not have enough stocks to deliver. We want to handle India as a priority first and manage Africa at the same time and then help out other countries," he said.
(With PTI inputs)