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India Gets Ready to Produce Vaccines


An employee removes vials of AstraZeneca's COVISHIELD, a COVID-19 vaccine, for inspection inside a lab at Serum Institute of India, in Pune, India, November 30, 2020. (REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas)
India Gets Ready to Produce Vaccines
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India is the world’s biggest vaccine maker, and it is getting ready for the worldwide effort to contain the coronavirus crisis.

India manufactures more than 60 percent of all vaccines sold across the world. While its $40 billion drug industry is not yet involved in the production of the expensive Pfizer Inc and Moderna shots, the country will play an important job in immunizing much of the world.

Indian companies are set to produce eight less costly vaccines that are designed to fight COVID-19, including AstraZeneca's Covishield. Its developers call it the "vaccine for the world.”

Barry O’Farrell is Australia’s ambassador to India. O’Farrell, along with other diplomats, recently visited vaccine manufacturing areas in India. He said that only one country could meet the demands “of citizens in every country, and that’s India.”

Serum Institute of India, SII, is the world’s biggest vaccine maker. It has already stored more than 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot. The shot still awaits emergency-use approvals from both British and Indian officials.

SII plans to make a total of 400 million doses of Covishield by July. It is setting up new production lines to make around one billion shots a year. Meanwhile, drug company Schott Kaisha is increasing production of vaccine vials. Vials are small glass or plastic containers for medicines.

Deutsche Post’s DHL, a delivery company, is working out the best way to send out the shots within the country and around the world.

“Because of the large volumes coming out of India and of course the affordable vaccines, there is no other country that will contribute more towards ending the pandemic than India,” SII CEO Adar Poonawalla told the Reuters news agency recently.

Much of India’s vaccine production could be, at least at first, for local use. With nearly 10 million infections, India has the world’s second-highest rate, following the United States with the highest. India’s government is likely to order a large amount of the vaccines for its 1.3 billion people.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not yet said exactly how much India will need. But his government has said some vaccines may be approved in the next few weeks. Poonawalla said he expects to sell hundreds of millions of doses at home. Nearly half of its production could go overseas, the company has said.

India’s Bharat Biotech has asked for emergency approval for its government-backed vaccine candidate. The company is in talks to sell its product to more than 10 countries in South America, Asia and Eastern Europe. Russia, meanwhile, has signed deals with Indian companies that will make the country the production and export center for its Sputnik V vaccine.

An employee in personal protective equipment (PPE) removes vials of AstraZeneca's COVISHIELD, coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine from a visual inspection machine inside a lab at Serum Institute of India, in Pune, India, November 30, 2020. Picture taken November 30, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas
An employee in personal protective equipment (PPE) removes vials of AstraZeneca's COVISHIELD, coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine from a visual inspection machine inside a lab at Serum Institute of India, in Pune, India, November 30, 2020. Picture taken November 30, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

Many companies in India’s vaccine supply industries are making investments without signed agreements. “We’ve taken a calculated risk,” said Rishad Dadachanji, a director at Schott Kaisha. Calculated is a term that means carefully planned.

Schott Kaisha is increasing its yearly manufacturing ability to 1.5 billion vials by November. That is around 300 million more vials than it currently produces. Leaders at rival companies SGD Pharma India and Piramal Glass said they were widening their production base. But because the Indian government has not yet signed any agreements with vaccine suppliers, some companies have been left guessing what kind of products they should make for the coming distribution.

Vial maker SGD’s managing director, Sardar Akshay Singh, warned that a last-minute move to secure vaccines for India could affect exports.

“We have been feeding the government a lot of information, but they’ve not come up with a plan so far,” said Sunil Nair. He is CEO of Snowman.

I'm John Russell.

Abhirup Roy, Euan Rocha, Krishna N. Das, and Devjyot Ghoshal reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.

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Words in This Story

immunize – v. to give (someone) a vaccine to prevent infection by a disease

dose – n. the amount of a medicine, drug, or vitamin that is taken at one time

delivery – n. the act of taking something to a person or place

volume – n. an amount of something

affordable – adj. not costing too much money

contribute v. to help to cause something to happen

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