Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla on Tuesday defended the export of Covid-19 vaccines before the second wave of pandemic ravaged the country. Poonawalla said in a statement that the company exported the vaccines when the number of daily caseloads in India were at an all-time low and when health experts believed that the nation was "turning the tide on the pandemic."
The Indian government has been facing criticism for its vaccine strategy as Opposition parties have asked why Covid-19 vaccines, critical in the fight against the pandemic, were exported in the early days of the vaccination drive. Posters were pasted across the national capital region questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi over vaccine shortage in the country.
"Modiji hamare bachhon ki vaccine videsh kyun bhej diya (Modi ji, why did you send the vaccines meant for our children to foreign countries?)" the posters read, after which 25 were arrested by Delhi Police in connection with those posters.
Poonawalla said that the government extended support to many countries facing an acute crisis and were in desperate need of help. He argued that such "corporation between countries" forms the basis of India getting access to technology and aid for healthcare. "Today, it is this reciprocity, where India has helped other countries with the supply of HCQ and vaccine exports, that has in turn led to support from other countries," Poonawalla said.
The SII CEO further stated that the pandemic is not limited by geographical and political boundaries and "[w]e will not be safe till" the virus is defeated at a global scale. US President Joe Biden also spoke on similar lines Monday while announcing vaccine exports by June end. However, the United States has already administered at least one of Covid-19 vaccines to nearly 60% of the US adult population.
Poonawalla asserted that SII has never exported vaccines at the cost of the people in India and remains committed to doing everything they can to support the vaccination drive in the country. But he clarified, citing several factors and challenges involved, that a vaccination drive for such a large population cannot be complete within 2-3 months.
"That said, it would take 2-3 years for the entire world population to get fully vaccinated," he added.