Receiving threats… can’t comment on Kumbh or polls: Adar to UK daily

“‘Threats’ is an understatement” to describe what he faced from people demanding “instant supplies” of the vaccine, Poonawalla told The Times in an interview.

In an interview to a London newspaper, Adar Poonawalla, head of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer Serum Institute of India (SII), has complained of receiving threats from politicians and “powerful men” demanding quick delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine that his firm has been producing.

Poonawalla also complained of being “vilified and blamed”, and hinted at starting a new vaccine production unit in the United Kingdom.

“‘Threats’ is an understatement” to describe what he faced from people demanding “instant supplies” of the vaccine, Poonawalla told The Times in an interview.

He said he had received calls from “some of the most powerful men in India”, including “Chief Ministers…, heads of business conglomerates and others”.

“The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented. It’s overwhelming. Everyone feels they should get the vaccine. They can’t understand why anyone else should get it before them,” Poonawalla told The Times.

“They are saying if you don’t give us the vaccine it’s not going to be good… It’s not foul language. It’s the tone. It’s the implication of what they might do if I don’t comply. It’s taking control. It’s coming over and basically surrounding the place and not letting us do anything unless we give in to their demands,” Poonawalla said.

Poonawalla has been in London with his family for the last few days. The Times said he “flew to London to join his wife and two children hours before Britain banned travellers from India eight days ago”.

Poonawalla told The Times that he was “staying here (in the UK) an extended time because I don’t want to go back to that situation”. “Everything falls on my shoulders but I can’t do it alone… I don’t want to be in a situation where you are just trying to do your job, and just because you can’t supply the needs of X, Y or Z you really don’t want to guess what they are going to do.”

Late on Saturday night India time, the Serum CEO posted on Twitter: “Had an excellent meeting with all our partners & stakeholders in the U.K. Meanwhile, pleased to state that COVISHIELD’s production is in full swing in Pune. I look forward to reviewing operations upon my return in a few days.”

Asked who must carry the blame for the situation India finds itself in, Poonawalla said: “If I give you the right answer, or any answer, my head would be chopped off… I can’t comment on the elections or Kumbh Mela. It’s too sensitive… I don’t think even God could have forecast it was going to get this bad.”

Cyrus Poonawalla, father of the SII CEO and chairman of the Poonawalla Group, told The Indian Express: “Adar goes to various places as and when required due to work, and this time has taken his family with him.”

SII is producing the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, and has supplied 90 per cent of the vaccine doses that have been given to Indian nationals so far. In the last few weeks, however, vaccines have been in short supply in the country, amidst a swelling demand.

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