The world’s largest vaccine maker, is speeding up production of AstraZeneca Plc’s COVID-19 shot, aiming to have 100 million doses ready by December for an inoculation drive that could commence in India that same month. If final-stage trial data show AstraZeneca’s candidate offers effective protection from the virus, the Serum Institute of India Ltd. — which is partnered to produce at least one billion doses — may get emergency authorization from New Delhi by December, said Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer of the family-owned firm based in the western city of Pune.
That initial amount will be diverted to India and full approval early next year will allow distribution on a 50-50 basis with the South Asian nation and Covax, the World Health Organization-backed body that’s purchasing shots for poor nations. Serum, which has collaborated with five developers, has so far made 40 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in the past two months and aims to start production of Novavax Inc.’s contender soon.
Poonawalla said AstraZeneca has a significant edge over a rival candidate from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, which this week grabbed headlines after declaring it was more than 90% effective in stopping Covid-19 infections. Expensive cold-chain infrastructure is needed to transport and store that vaccine at -70 degrees Celsius. Poonawalla said it was “just impossible” for most of the world to use at scale, compared to those his company will produce that can be stored at fridge temperatures.
Drugmakers are just now receiving data that will show the effectiveness of their vaccine on candidates , but there are plenty of hurdles remaining as the global race to find an effective shot against the pathogen reaches its final stages.
Astra and co-developer University of Oxford still need to evaluate testing results. And even if their vaccine proves effective and gets a nod from regulators, there are uncertainty over the speed of distribution and availability. Poonawalla reiterated that it will take until 2024 to vaccinate the entire world and two years to see a real reduction in infections, due to affordability and manufacturing hurdles.