From his baronial boardroom in Pune, Adar Poonawalla can look out upon the perfectly manicured turf of India’s biggest stud farm. Over the years, the family’s racehorses have won the Indian Derby 10 times. These days, however, the thoroughbreds gambolling across the paddock beneath his window may be the last thing on his mind.
Poonawalla is chief executive of Serum Institute of India (SII), now the world’s largest manufacturer of Covid vaccines, which has been running full tilt to produce 50m doses per month of the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford jab.
But the company has found itself at the centre of Britain’s first stumble in the race to vaccinate its population after 5m doses that it was meant to deliver in March now face delays.
Since the New Year, almost 25m Brits have had the jab – but NHS England has warned the delay will result in a slower pace of vaccinations in April.
Poonwalla told The Telegraph that the Indian government was to blame, diverting supplies to boost its own vaccine rollout: “It is solely dependent on India and it has nothing to do with the SII,” he said. “It is to do with the Indian Government allowing more doses to the UK.”
The delay is yet another sign of so-called “vaccine nationalism”, whereby countries are being accused of hoarding supplies in a bid to inoculate their populations first. It follows the EU, where inoculations are proceeding at a slow pace, threatening a ban on exports of vaccines to Britain – as well as member countries raising disputed concerns over the safety of the AstraZeneca jab.
Speaking in an interview with The Telegraph in January, Poonawalla nodded to the divided loyalties of vaccine manufacturers between governments who have ordered doses and their own countries: “Everyone has worked tirelessly for months on end… The real challenge now is rolling it out to all the countries worldwide but also balancing our commitments domestically and understanding what my government [India] wants us to do. It’s a fine balance.”