London: Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonwalla (40) on Saturday spoke out about the tremendous pressures he was under over the production of COVID-19 vaccines to meet India’s ever-increasing demand. Poonawalla told 'The Times' in an interview about receiving aggressive calls from some of the most powerful people in India, demanding supplies of Covishield -- the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. "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.
"The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented. It's overwhelming. Everyone feels they should get the vaccine. They can't understand why anyone else should get it before them," he said.
The businessman indicated in the interview that his move to London is also linked to business plans to expand vaccine manufacturing to countries outside India, which may include the likes of the UK.
"There's going to be an announcement in the next few days," he said, when asked about Britain as one of the production bases outside India.
According to the newspaper, by the time the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was approved in January this year, the SII had increased its annual production capacity from 1.5 to 2.5 billion doses at a cost of USD 800 million, and stockpiled 50 million doses of Covishield.
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, "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.