Covid-19: Indian vaccine maker Poonawalla hopeful of Covishield nod for EU travel

Dubai - No reason for European Medicines Agency not to approve Covishield, Serum Institute chief says during India Global Forum.

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By James Jose, Suneeti Ahuja Kohli

Published: Wed 30 Jun 2021, 4:20 PM

Last updated: Wed 30 Jun 2021, 4:28 PM

Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, is hopeful that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will approve Covishield, India’s version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will allow people to travel to Europe.

The EMA had approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in January, but the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India, under the name Covishield, will require a separate approval. Covishield has been exported around the globe as part of the Covax initiative.

“Firstly, the EMA is absolutely correct in asking us to apply, which we have, through AstraZeneca, our partners, a month ago,” Poonawalla said during the India Global Forum on Wednesday.

“The issue of vaccine passports is slightly different. Let’s take a manufacturer outside of India, for example, let’s say they are approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO), everyone in that country gets vaccinated taking that product. When those citizens need to travel, what good is their vaccine certificate if it is not acknowledged and the reciprocity is not there between countries. It is just basically like a visa. For example, if my country accepts your visa, your country should accept mine. So, it is that level of reciprocity that we would hope and like to see between all these nations,” he added.

And Poonawalla expressed confidence that Covishield will be approved soon enough.

“In a month, we are quite confident that the EMA will approve Covishield — there’s no reason why not to because it is based on the AstraZeneca data, our product is identical to AstraZeneca more or less and it has been approved by WHO, the UK MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency). So, it is just a matter of time, and it is not really going to hinder anything. The reason why it was flagged is because if we don’t address it now, when India gets off the red-list, and when citizens want to travel, they should not be refused in a given country just because they have a Covishield certificate. So, it is all happening for the positive and it should be all addressed by the time a lot of people start to travel,” opined Poonawalla.

The 40-year-old said that lessons have been learned from the current pandemic and added that it was vital to look to the future and stockpile empty capacity.

“We have learned a lot of things. I think the world can still come together to ensure long-term capacity. This is what I’ve always said that this pandemic may be hopefully over in two or three years, maybe four years. But what are we doing about keeping and stockpiling empty capacity? And this is what we have offered to certain regions and other countries. It is about entering into a long-term contract for 10 or 15 years with a certain region or country which doesn’t have the ability to manufacture vaccines. Giving them priority and at a fixed price,” felt Poonawalla.

“For example, imagine that you could have a 15-year idle capacity for a small reservation fee to a manufacturer who could supply an entire region on priority, with a push of a button, with multiple different technologies and products that could be put in there. For example, in five years' time, there’s another pandemic. Somebody innovates and makes mRNA or a viral vector vaccine. Where are you going to produce it? Again, to find partners, find capacity, then you do a tie-up, you negotiate on pricing, all of that. So, instead of that, why not have that inbuilt for 15 years as a long-term contract.

“In my opinion, a country should now invest in empty capacity for the long-term, which they can, with a push a button, secure their nation against any pandemic. This is what I’m proposing that this is where the world community needs to come together and have four or five of these massive centres of manufacturing, probably in the countries that are already doing it, to be able to serve the world going forward and be better prepared for the future so that we can act faster.

“I know it is not going to be easy, but this is how we will have to do it. It will have to be in collaboration by these countries, the UN, the WHO and probably these major countries that have manufacturing or those four five regions which regulate the world as far as quality standards are concerned,” he explained.

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