Home/ Companies / News/  SII CEO Adar Poonawalla warns of delays in vaccine production as US prioritizes Pfizer

The head of the world’s biggest vaccine maker and the World Health Organization’s chief scientist said manufacturers of coronavirus shots face a global shortage of the raw materials needed to churn out the inoculations.

Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive officer of the Serum Institute of India Ltd. -- which is licensed to produce hundreds of millions of Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca Plc and Novavax Inc. -- told a World Bank panel on Thursday that a U.S. law blocking the export of certain key items, including bags and filters, will likely cause serious bottlenecks. Soumya Swaminathan from the WHO added that there were shortfalls of vials, glass, plastic and stoppers required by those companies.

“The Novavax vaccine, which we’re a major manufacturer for, needs these items from the U.S.," Poonawalla said. “If we’re talking about building capacity all over the world, the sharing of these critical raw materials is going to become a critical limiting factor -- nobody has been able to address this so far."

Those supply disruption concerns have arisen after the Biden administration announced plans to use the Defense Production Act to boost supplies needed to make Pfizer Inc.’s vaccines. Last year, Pfizer scaled back its production targets after the U.S. drugmaker ran into difficulties securing all the materials it needs to produce the vaccines at a large scale, a reminder that the world is depending on mass manufacturing at an unprecedented speed and scale to end the pandemic.

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“This is one thing that would need some discussion with the Biden administration to explain to them there’s enough to go around," Poonawalla said. “We’re talking about having free global access to vaccines but if we can’t get the raw materials out of the U.S. -- that’s going to be a serious limiting factor."

Even under ideal conditions, getting injections into the arms of 7.8 billion people would test the delicate choreography of the world’s supply chains in ways unseen in peacetime. That’s because producing a vaccine relies on a complex global value chain of raw materials and components.

“There is a shortage of materials, of products that you need for the manufacturing of vaccines," said Swaminathan. “This is where again you need global agreement and coordination not to do export bans."

She said the WHO’s vaccine partners, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations and the Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers Network, will hold meetings on Monday and Tuesday next week to discuss those issues.

Despite Poonawalla’s warnings, he said that Serum had in the past two months distributed 90 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to 51 countries after it was granted emergency authorization by Indian regulators in early January -- a record pace for the company.

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Updated: 05 Mar 2021, 11:36 AM IST
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