Public Health

Serum Institute for Prioritizing India

An AstraZeneca vaccine production line.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The world’s largest vaccine maker by volume, Serum Institute of India, has been told to first meet domestic demand for Covid-19 shots before selling them overseas.

The move implies that overseas governments could face order delays from the company as it puts India’s needs before others.

“Dear countries and governments, while you wait for #COVISHIELD to be delivered, I humbly ask you to be patient,” tweeted CEO Adar Poonawalla.

He said the Serum Institute of India (SII) has been “directed to prioritize India’s tremendous needs while balancing the needs of the rest of the world. We are trying our best.”

Poonawalla did not elaborate on who gave the directive.

SII declined to comment on Poonawalla’s tweet when contacted by CNBC.


The Serum Institute makes the vaccine, which was developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University, known locally as Covishield.

It is one of two vaccines that have received an emergency approval for India’s mass vaccination campaign, which is expected to vaccinate around 300 million people in the first phase, most of them frontline workers and those over 50 or in risk groups.

The other vaccine, which received emergency approval, was developed locally by Bharat Biotech in India. It was created in collaboration with the Indian State Council for Medical Research and has received emergency approval if clinical trials continue.

Since the vaccination campaign started in January, India has vaccinated more than 10.8 million people on February 20, according to the government. It is expected that the number of daily vaccinations will increase in the coming months.

An Army health worker prepares a dose of Covishield, AstraZeneca / Oxford’s Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine from the Indian Serum Institute, at an Army hospital in Colombo on Jan. 29, 2021.

Sign S. Kodikara | AFP | Getty Images

Covishield was provided an emergency directory listing this month by the World Health Organization (WHO) that can be used to ship it to low and middle income countries around the world.

AstraZeneca hopes more than 300 million doses will be made available to 145 countries in the first half of 2021 through Covax, a global vaccination initiative run by the WHO and others.

Covishield is cheaper compared to some of the other vaccines used – such as those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. It also does not need to be stored at extremely low temperatures, which makes it suitable for use in many developing countries that lack the necessary storage infrastructure.

Growing demand

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