Adar Poonwalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, had to fly out of India due to aggressive calls from some of India's most influential people requesting supplies of Covid vaccines.
Poonwalla spoke out on Saturday about the stresses he's under to produce Covishield - the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine that the Serum Institute is manufacturing in India - fast enough to meet India's rising demand in the wake of the Covid outbreak.
Poonawalla told 'The Times' in an interview that the pressure is largely behind his decision to fly into London to be with his wife and children, even after he received 'Y' category protection from the Indian government earlier this week.
"The phone calls are the worst thing," said Adar Poonawalla, adding, "The calls come from some of the most powerful men in India. They come from the chief ministers of Indian states, heads of business conglomerates and others demanding instant supplies of Covishield, as the AstraZeneca vaccine is known in India."
"Threats are an understatement," Poonawalla said. "The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented. It's overwhelming."
"They are incessant and very menacing," added the man whose Serum Institute is producing 90 per cent of India's Covid-19 vaccines at a time when the pandemic is rampaging through the second most populous country on Earth, causing fear, panic and death on an appalling scale.
"I'm staying here (London) an extended time because I don't want to go back to that situation. Everything falls on my shoulders but I can't do it alone...I don't want to be in a situation where you are just trying to do your job, and just because you can't supply the needs of X, Y or Z you really don't want to guess what they are going to do," Poonawalla told the newspaper.
In the interview, the businessman also said that his move to London is related to plans to expand vaccine manufacturing outside of India, which may include the United Kingdom.
When asked if Britain will be one of the production bases outside of India, he said, "There will be an announcement in the next few days."
According to the newspaper, the Serum Institute of India had raised its annual production potential from 1.5 to 2.5 billion doses at a cost of USD 800 million and stockpiled 50 million doses of Covishield by the time the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was approved in January this year.
The company began exporting to 68 countries, including Britain, as India seemed to have been over the worse, until the situation worsened in recent weeks.
"We're really gasping for all the help we can get," Poonawalla said in the 'Times' interview. "I don't think even God could have forecast it was going to get this bad," he said.
On the charge of profiteering as the cost of Covishield was recently hiked, he termed it as "totally incorrect" and added that Covishield will still be "the most affordable vaccine on the planet" even at a higher price.
"We have done the best we can without cutting corners or doing anything wrong or profiteering. I'll wait for history to judge," he said.
"I've always had this sense of responsibility to India and the world because of the vaccines we were making, but never have we made a vaccine so needed in terms of saving lives," he added.