Rivals Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech come together after fear of ban on vaccine exports

Rivals Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech come together after fear of ban on vaccine exports
Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla (L) and Bharat Biotech CEO Krishna EllaIANS/BI India
  • Bharat Biotech CEO Krishna Ella and Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla issued a joint statement today, pledging their commitment to making the COVID-19 vaccine available in India and ‘around the world.’
  • Caught in a recent war of words, the rivals seem to have found common ground in wanting to export their respective COVID-19 vaccines.
  • On January 4, SII CEO Adar Poonawalla told the Associated Press that the Indian government had only granted Emergency Use Approval (EUA) on the condition that the company won’t export its vaccine for several months.
  • UPDATE: The government has since clarified that there is no ban on exporting any COVID-19 vaccine from India.
Bharat Biotech and the Serum Institute of India (SII) may be on the opposite sides of the bench, but have decided to set their differences aside — at least for the time being. In a joint statement, the two companies have pledged ‘towards a smooth rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines to India and the world’ on January 5.

After a rather public spat, the two have decided to bury the hatchet in what seems like a push for exports.

“Now that two COVID-19 vaccines have been issued EUA in India, focus is on manufacturing, supply, and distribution, such that populations that need it the most receive high quality, safe and efficacious vaccines,” they said.

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Speculations over the ban on exporting COVID-19 vaccine
On January 4, SII CEO Adar Poonawaala told the Associated Press ( AP) that Covishield was only granted Emergency Use Approval (EUA) by the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) on the condition that the company would not export any of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine it manufactured in India for the next several months.The news was further corroborated by Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, who told PTI, “India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has confirmed to us that their ban will not be applicable for Bangladesh,” later the same day.
However, no official notification with respect to the same was issued. The government has since clarified that there is no ban on the export of any COVID-19 vaccine. “The Union government has not banned the export of any of the Covid-19 vaccines. This should be absolutely clear,” said Rajesh Bhushan, the Secretary of the Health Ministry.

SII is a part of the COVAX, a global partnership launched by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in April, to ensure that people in all corners of the world have access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Poonawalla told the Telegraph that the ban is only on exporting to private players, so exports to COVAX are still permitted. However, even those exports will only happen once the Indian government’s requirements are fulfilled.

Critics have pointed out that the disparity between high-income countries and low-income countries is only widening. The most recent tally by the People’s Vaccine Alliance — a group which consists of Oxfam, Amnesty International, Global Justice Now and others — shows that wealthy nations account for 14% fo the global population, but have hoarded around 53% of the global COVID-19 supply of vaccines so far.

With a ban on exports, poorer nations will probably have to wait a few months before receiving their first shots. The resulting impact could be nothing — or could have implications for people all around the globe.

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Calling a truce
The joint statement also comes after Poonawalla told reporters that there are only three vaccines globally that have proven their efficacy — Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca — while other COVID-19 vaccines have only proven to be safe, just like ‘water’ on January 3.

The following day, Bharat Biotech CEO Krishna Ella hit back, saying that there’s a conspiracy at hand. According to him, Poonawalla’s comments were just a ploy to create a backlash against Indian companies.

Ella also pointed out that the reason behind Serum’s speedy Emergency Usage Approval (EUA) was due to a large number of candidates it was able to test in the UK. Bharat Biotech, on the other hand, has a large repository of data for Indian participants with 25,000 people.

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Before the joint statement, Poonawalla highlighted that the tiff between him and Ella was only a ‘miscommunication’. He also clarified that while SII will be providing India with the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine; it will continue to hold true to its pledge of providing global access as well.

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