Home >Science >Health >Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech call a truce, issue joint statement

After publicly trading barbs over the efficacy of their respective vaccines, Serum Institute of India chief executive officer Adar Poonawalla and Bharat Biotech International chairman and managing director Krishna Ella called a truce as they issued a joint statement pledging their commitment to supply of covid-19 vaccines to India and the world.

“Both companies respect the great work being carried out by each other and put behind us the miscommunication and misunderstanding caused during the past week. We are fully aware of the importance of vaccines for people and countries alike, we hereby communicate our joint pledge to provide global access for our covid-19 vaccines," Poonawalla and Ella said in the joint statements, while stating “their combined intent to develop manufacture and supply the COVID-19 vaccines for India and globally".

The Tuesday joint statement came after public feuding between the two sides, beginning with Poonawalla’s interview to a private news channel NDTV, in which he questioned the efficacy of Bharat Biotech’s vaccine and said that only three vaccines had proven efficacy—Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca—while all others were only “safe, just like water".

This was followed by a press conference by Bharat Biotech on Monday, where a visibly upset Ella, said, “Some companies have branded me like 'water'. I want to deny that. We are scientists," and that they “don’t deserve this backlash."

He then went on to criticize University of Oxford and AstraZeneca’s trials of vaccine, which Serum Institute is contract manufacturing and for which the Pune-based firm had conducted a 1,600-participant bridging study.

“Covaxin has shown less than 10% adverse reactions, while others have 60-70% adverse reactions. AstraZeneca was giving 4g paracetamol to volunteers to suppress such reactions. We haven’t given paracetamol to any volunteer," Ella said, while calling the Oxford trial ‘lousy’ and also criticising Serum Institute’s own bridging study without naming the company.

According to a source in the know, the push for the truce came from the government after Ella tore into Poonawalla at Monday’s press conference.

The joint statement was also highlighted by health secretary Rajesh Bhushan to make his point about not restricting exports of the two vaccines.

“This joint statement has been issued by Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech. In the statement they say, ‘vaccines are a global public health good’. They also say that ‘we communicate our joint pledge to provide global access for our covid-19 vaccines’... This means that neither the Union government nor the vaccine manufacturers are talking of any ban on exports of vaccines," Bhushan said.

The clarification followed interviews by Poonawalla to various news outlets, including Mint, where he said, “the government has put a restriction that we cannot sell in the private market or export the vaccine till they feel secure enough about domestic supply."

To be sure, both companies have faced criticism from some quarters. For Serum Institute, the criticism was primarily over the lack of clarity on dosage as the DCGI had given an authorisation for two full doses with a gap of 4-6 weeks, while Poonawalla in his statements said that they were looking for an interval of one to three months to get a higher efficacy of 90% as compared to 62% based on a one-month gap.

Criticism was more severe for Bharat Biotech, which is yet to get efficacy data from its phase 3 trial of 26,000 participants but has still been given emergency licensure by the DCGI “in public interest as an abundant precaution, in clinical trial mode especially in the context of infection by mutant strains." The language has been called convoluted by several experts, and has attracted criticism by most experts including, most prominently, Gagandeep Kang, vice chair of the non-profit Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

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