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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Cyrus Poonawalla: ‘Not averse if vaccines of two makers given as first and second dose’

Cyrus Poonawalla told The Indian Express that if the vaccine administered at the time of the first dose is not available at the time of the second dose, it is okay for a different Covid vaccine to be used.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune |
Updated: August 14, 2021 6:54:03 am
The Annual Lokmanya Tilak National Award was presented to Dr Cyrus Poonawalla by Congress leader Sushilkumar Shinde at Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth on Friday. (Express Photo Ashish Kale)

Cyrus Poonawalla, chairman of the Poonawalla Group that includes the biotech firm Serum Institute of India (SII) — the manufacturer of the Covishield Covid-19 vaccine —on Friday said he was not averse if the two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine administered were from two different manufacturers.

Poonawalla told The Indian Express that if the vaccine administered at the time of the first dose is not available at the time of the second dose, it is okay for a different Covid vaccine to be used.

Earlier in the day, Poonawalla was asked at an event about an ICMR study that said that the administering of Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin as the first and second dose respectively was perfectly safe and showed better immunogenicity. In response, Poonawalla said it was better to wait for such studies to be proven. “I have no objection to any study being done. Let it be formally proven in a study,” he said.

He also said that the “mixing of Covid-19 vaccines is wrong”. Speaking in Marathi, he said that if “something were to go wrong”, then a “blame game” between the two vaccine manufacturers could ensue.

Poonawalla said that SII has manufactured 550 million doses of the vaccine, much of which has been used in India. He said it was wrong for the Indian government to stop the export of vaccines, noting that SII has promised to fulfil the advance amount given by many countries. He also raised concerns about whether India could get fully vaccinated by the end of the year.

“We are not allowed to export the vaccine, though it is required worldwide, till we protect our own people first,” he said, adding that most of the vaccines manufactured by the company have been supplied to the Indian government, the WHO and poorer countries.

However, he noted that red tapism and license raj has reduced under the Narendra Modi government. “One of the reasons why we could launch our vaccine so quickly was forthcoming permissions and encouraging grants to industries as the license raj has come down considerably,” he said.

Poonawalla also advocated for a third dose as a booster shot six months after the second dose, adding that he and SII staff have been administered three doses of the vaccine.

Later speaking to The Indian Express, Poonawalla clarified that the objection he had raised at the event was only to the phrase “mixing of vaccines”.

“This is an unnecessary controversy… A question was asked as to whether vaccines can be ‘mixed’. My position is very clear – are we going to stir a cup of tea and mix it? The question should have been — in case one company’s vaccine is not available for the second dose, can another company’s vaccine be used, and yes, this is correct and logical… It is important to save lives,” he said.

Citing the example of the unavailability of any drug, serum or antibiotic, Poonawalla said, “You take the next best choice and give it.”

In a statement, Poonawalla said, “For those who have been administered the first dose of a particular vaccine and in case of the unavailability of the second dose of the same, as an alternative, another vaccine can be administered. That said, the efficacy and the immunogenicity of the combination are dependent on the ongoing studies conducted by regulators.”

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