– Serum Foundation to produce vaccines not only for the world’s second most populous country, but likely many others as well
INDIA has authorized two COVID-19 vaccines to be used, putting its huge vaccine manufacturing capability under the spotlight. Large parts of the rich world may have something valuable to learn.
The Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by volume, founded over 50 years ago by Cyrus Poonawalla, now a multi-millionaire. It is likely to provide not only almost all vaccines administered in India, but many in other parts of the world as well, once exports are allowed later in the year.
Research by Fitch Solutions outlines three groups of Asian economies this year: those who can vaccinate most people in priority groups such as healthcare workers and the elderly by June, those who can do so by a month September and those that will take longer. . India is by far the lowest income country in the first group of economies, which includes Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Malaysia. South Korea and richer Thailand will take longer.
Serum Foundation work requires a reliable and large supply of the vials where the vaccines are sealed and transported, securing companies like Schott Kaisha and Piramal Glass. The existence of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer helps to establish the foundation for a domestic network of suppliers.
Global supply chains and international trade have held up remarkably well in extreme circumstances over the past year. A great deal of manufacturing capacity does not need to be re-landed, and any attempt to even halfway through will make all parties involved – importers and exporters – less prosperous.
But countries could take a leaf from India’s book in terms of producing essential items that could encounter huge demand surges, and where national priorities emerge. To do so is unrealistic for all small and medium-sized countries, but production could be organized at regional block level such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The pandemic hit Latin America harder than many other parts of the world, but its limited vaccine production means that most nations there remain long ahead of them.
Such a company does not have to be a government initiative. As noted, Serum Institute was set up as a private company and remains a private company, although it cooperates closely with government. A similar capability could be established through collaboration on healthcare regulation to create large regional markets, and the right financial incentives. The principle applies as clearly to personal protective equipment as it does to vaccines.
Many richer countries have worried about the lack of such vital components because they are usually imported, and supplies are now uncertain with demand high in the air. Given the speed with which European vaccines are being introduced, the Indian program may well be a model for the world. (Wall Street Journal)