'Very stressed' Serum Institute asks government for $400M vaccine production boost

With its production capacity “very stressed,” the world’s largest producer of vaccines is seeking relief from its government.

The Serum Institute of India has requested a grant of more than $400 million to beef up production of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. The investment would allow SII to increase output from around 70 million doses per month to more than 100 million by the end of May.

With India in the throes of a coronavirus surge—reporting more than 100,000 new cases daily—and facing a vaccine shortage, most of the factory’s output has been retained for domestic needs. 

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In late February, CEO Adar Poonawalla asked the public for patience as SII sought to balance India's needs with those of the rest of the world. Since then, the government has restricted exports. This week, Poonawalla said the company’s production capacity was “very stressed.” 

The company has supplied roughly 90% of the 90 million vaccine doses administered so far in the country. India has yet to open vaccinations to those under age 45.

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The export pause has also added to the stress of embattled AstraZeneca, which has fallen behind in supplying the worldwide relief effort COVAX. The company has committed 240 million doses to COVAX by the end of June. As of Thursday, less than 39 million had been delivered.

This week, Poonawalla told the Business Standard that AstraZeneca sent a legal notice to SII for delays in supplying the vaccine.