World's Biggest Vaccine Maker Serum Halts Production Over Millions of Unused Doses

Adar Poonawalla said he was worried about wastage if the shots expired.

World's Biggest Vaccine Maker Serum Halts Production Over Millions of Unused Doses
An employee removes vials of Covishield, at the Serum Institute of India Ltd. Hadaspar plant in Pune. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

Serum Institute of India Ltd., the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer and a key supplier of Covid-19 inoculations to developing countries, has stopped making fresh batches of shots after its stockpile grew to 200 million doses amid a global supply glut. 

“We have got 200 million doses of stock. We had to shut down production in December,” Serum’s chief executive officer Adar Poonawalla said at the India Economic Conclave organized by Times Network on Friday, saying he was worried about wastage if the shots expired. “I have even offered to give free donations to whoever wanted to take it.”

Serum’s predicament underscores the vaccine oversupply that has crept up across a world once desperate for immunization against the coronavirus. Vaccine makers invested in massive production capacity over the past year and some of that has come online only after most countries covered much of their populations with two doses. The global adjustment to living with the virus -- with the exception of Covid Zero-practising China and Hong Kong -- has also diluted the urgency for booster shots.  

The about-turn is especially stark in India, which just a year ago slapped an export ban on Serum and other local producers to ensure enough supply for the local population. The country now allows all those above the age of 18 to take booster shots, and Poonawalla urged wider expansion. He said that the government is also expected to cut the recommended time gap for a booster shot to six months after the second dose, from nine months now. 

Poonawala said that Serum, which is a core supplier for the WHO-backed Covax program that helps ensure vaccine supply to developing countries, is drafting a “global pandemic treaty” to bring about free flow and coordination of essential resources like raw materials for vaccine production in the next crisis.

Serum has cited protectionist measures in other countries that led to a shortage of raw materials as one reason it fell short of vaccine production goals at the height of the pandemic. The company manufactures the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc and Oxford University, as well as the shot from Novovax Inc. 

Like in most other countries, life in India has largely moved past the Covid era, though cases have been on the rise again, pushing capital New Delhi to reinstate a mask mandate in public spaces this week. 

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.