India’s pharma industry gears up to ‘immunise the world’ against COVID

Since India manufactures more than 60% of all vaccines sold in the world, it is likely to be the lead player in providing the coronavirus vaccine shots to a majority of countries

The British Medical Association urged England's chief medical officer to urgently review the policy for the Pfizer vaccine

Even as the world gears up for the arrival of COVID-19 vaccine shots, India’s billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry and its allied businesses are set to rake in the moolah without concrete deals in place.

Since India manufactures more than 60% of all vaccines sold in the world, it is likely to be the lead player in providing the coronavirus vaccine shots to most countries, especially the developing countries.

The Indian vaccine industry’s unique selling proposition (USP) is its price advantage. At least eight economical vaccines are in different stages of manufacturing in India right now. Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing Covishield vaccine with AstraZeneca and Oxford, claims its product is “meant to immunize the whole world”.

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As per reports, Serum, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has stocked in excess of 5 crore doses of the vaccine so far. The Pune-based company plans to produce 40 crore shots of Covishield by July next year and later scale it up to manufacture 100 crore jabs a year.

Serum CEO Adar Poonawalla told Reuters: “Because of the large volumes coming out of India and of course the affordable vaccines, there is no other country that will contribute more towards ending the pandemic than India.”

Australia’s ambassador to India, Barry O’Farrell, reposed faith in Indian vaccine makers’ ability to meet the world demand. “Many vaccines are being produced around the world but there’s only one nation (India) that has the manufacturing capacity to produce sufficient quantities to satisfy the demands of citizens in every country,” O’Farrell said.

Despite India’s ability and its preparation to scale up vaccine manufacture, bulk of its production will be used to immunize the country’s population, at least in the first stage. That is because India is the second worst affected country by Covid-19 pandemic after the US with nearly one crore cases till date. Most orders for the vaccines initially may come from the Government of India.

Serum plans to sell a bulk of its shots in India, but still 50% of its production is meant for other countries. Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech too is preparing to sell its product in South America, Asia and Europe.

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine too will be manufactured by Indian companies with initial target to manufacture more than 10 crore doses a year.

Serum and Bharat Biotech, meanwhile, are still waiting for emergency authorization use from the Government of India. The approval is likely to come through in the next 2-3 weeks.

While the vaccine makers are busy making production and sales plans, the allied industries like vial makers, cold storage manufacturers and logistics players, which will be involved in transporting the shots, too are gearing up for the challenge. Pharmaceutical packager Schott Kaisha is scaling up production of vaccine vials and Deutsche Post’s DHL is preparing the best plan to distribute it across the world.

Also read: Panel wants more data to approve emergency use of COVID vaccines

Many of these companies are taking calculated risks since they do not have concrete deals in hand. “We are increasing annual manufacturing capacity by 300 million to 1.5 billion vials by November,” Rishad Dadachanji, a director at Schott Kaisha, told Reuters. The company is in talks with 10 vaccine manufacturers in India and abroad.

Schott Kaisha’s rivals, SGD Pharma India and Piramal Glass, too are expanding their production base.

Also read: Delhi, Hyderabad airports being readied to store COVID vaccines

Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Cadila Healthcare, logistics company FedEx, cold chain storage specialist Snowman Logistics and Hindustan Syringes too are scaling up operations. Hindustan Syringes will increase capacity to 100 crore units by the first half of next year.

Ancillary units, meanwhile, aren’t sure about the kind of products they should manufacture because the Indian government has not yet signed any contracts with vaccine suppliers. “A last-minute rush to secure vaccines for India could hit exports,” a vial maker said.

Cold chain operator, Snowman, too is waiting for order confirmation from the Centre though it plans to double its vaccine handling capacity to 200 million doses by March.

Serum Institute, meanwhile, is focusing all its energies on the manufacture of ‘Covishield’ vaccine by cutting down production of jabs for other diseases. The company is buying more cold rooms and trucks.

DHL, the world’s largest courier and logistics company, has begun transporting the vaccine in India with services provided during Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine trials. DHL is ready to distribute all vaccines once the government gives a go ahead to the manufacturers.

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