India’s Serum Institute’s lack of fresh orders has resulted in the facility cutting its production by 50 percent. Half a billion coronavirus vaccine shots currently in stock could otherwise go to waste. The excess capacity is largely attributed to logistical barriers.
Serum Institute produces the Covishield jab, the local version of AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria. It accounts for 90 percent of the 1.3 billion doses given so far in India.
Despite its widespread use, the company is facing an unexpected overstock issue.
CEO Adar Poonawalla told CNBC-TV18: “I am in a dilemma which I never imagined to be in.
“I am producing 250 million doses [of Covishield] a month but the good news is India has covered a large part of the population and we will have completed all our orders to the ministry of health in a week’s time.
“We have no other orders at hand. So I am going to be reducing the production by at least 50 percent to begin with on a monthly basis until orders again pick up either in India and the world.”
READ MORE: How do you get a Covid pass? NHS App crashes as Brits rush to get pass
In response to domestic demand as infections rose in India, the firm halted vaccine exports from April to October.
India has this year fully vaccinated half of its eligible adults.
While some 85 percent of Indians have been administered one dose, tens of millions of people are still to receive their second dose.
One way the Institute could prevent the half a billion doses in stock from going to waste is by reducing the 12-to-16-week wait between the first and second shot to only eight weeks.
More than 160 former world leaders and global figures called on the UK and other rich countries in October to immediately airlift millions of surplus coronavirus vaccines to developing nations.
Mr Poonawalla added: “All these other nations cannot vaccinate at seven or eight million beneficiaries a day like India has done.
“They don’t have that kind of infrastructure.
“Hopefully by this time next year they would have hopefully reached 60-70 percent of the target for double vaccination.”
Vaccine wastage already proved problematic in India at the beginning of the year. Then, however, it was due to a lack of local coordination in vaccination centres.
In March, about 6.5 percent of doses were going to waste, with health officials urging states to better manage their immunisation drives.
While the government did not say specifically how many doses had been thrown away, the provided percentage figure suggests it could have been more than two million.
Top health official Vinod Kumar Paul said: “Wastage of this elixir-like precious commodity, the most important thing now for an individual or the country as a whole, is absolutely wrong.”
In the UK, hundreds of thousands of shots went to waste in May due to a change of policy in the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to younger age groups following fears it produced rare blood clotting.
More than 600,000 surplus doses were binned when they expired in August – a move deemed a failure as they could have been donated to poorer countries.
Oxfam described this as “an absolute scandal” while Medicins Sans Frontières (MSF) said it was “painful to see” given that “COVID-19 medical tools are scarce and some countries have inoculated less than 1 percent of their population”.