Vaccine firms Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute patch up after war of words

After engaging in a war of words, the chiefs of two of India’s leading vaccine makers, and Serum Institute of India, patched up and issued a joint statement saying they would work together for a ‘smooth rollout’ of the Covid19 vaccines to India and the world.

The two companies, which got restricted-use approval in an emergency situation (covid-19) last weekend, were caught up in a war of words after a group of experts raised questions around the process of approval.

Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India, told a national television channel that there are only three vaccines in the world with proven efficacy (Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca), and that everything else has been proven safe ‘just like water’. His counterpart Krishna Ella, chairman and managing director of retorted with a dig saying had his firm done trials like AstraZeneca, the drug regulator would have ‘shut down the company’.

It is learnt that the government did not take the controversy lightly and a top official in New Delhi engaged actively in the process of monitoring vaccine roll-out, called up both the firms, asking them to put up a face of solidarity in the public.

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On Monday a visibly upset Ella told the media that the approval was given to his vaccine candidate Covaxin based on ‘excellent’ animal challenge study data and on the fact that it had showed safety in over 25000 people. In the backdrop of a mutated strain from UK, Ella felt that his vaccine candidate would prove effective as it is based on an inactivated whole virus platform. As for data on the matter, he said he needed a week’s time to come back.

He pointed out that how the clinical trial data was well published (across five journals) unlike his Indian peers and felt that the inadvertent dosing error by (when a half and full dose was given to one subset of volunteers) raises major questions on determining the vaccine efficacy.

Both the firms together have at least 70 mn doses of Covid-19 vaccines ready by February and would thus play a major role in the roll out of the vaccine in India by the government for essential services workers. “The fight and the controversy surrounding the approval is definitely denting the country’s image. Moreover, it would impact the public perception of the vaccine. The regulator should have also explained the rationale behind the approvals instead of reading out from a sheet,” felt a senior official in the government.

On Tuesday, both the companies communicated their ‘combined intent’ to develop, manufacture and supply the Covid19 vaccines for India and globally.

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They said, the more important task in front of them is saving the lives and livelihoods of populations in India and the world. “Vaccines are a global public health good and they have the power to save lives and accelerate the return to economic normalcy at the earliest,” their statement read.

In a statement signed jointly by Ella and Poonawalla the two said, “Now that two Covid-19 vaccines have been issued EUA (emergency use authorization) in India, the focus is on manufacturing, supply and distribution, such that populations that need it the most receive high quality, safe and efficacious vaccines. Both our Companies are fully engaged in this activity and consider it our duty to the nation and the world at large to ensure a smooth rollout of vaccines. Each of our Companies continue their Covid-19 vaccines development activities as planned.”

Poonawalla had tweeted about releasing a joint statement earlier in the day while put out the statement on their twitter handle.

“We are fully aware of the importance of vaccines for people and countries alike, we hereby communicate our joint pledge to provide global access for our Covid-19 vaccines,” said the two CEOs indicating an end to their fight.

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