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World’s biggest vaccine producer blames Biden’s embargo on crucial raw materials for crippling production of Covid-19 jabs

In a tweet tagging Biden’s official Twitter handle on Friday, SII Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla said, “If we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the US, I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the US so that vaccine production can ramp up. Your administration has the details.”

The tweet was referring to the Biden administration’s invocation in February of the Defence Production Act (1950) – a Korean War-era law that affords the government a range of emergency powers to control distribution of products and compel companies to prioritize certain orders over others.

The export ban came into effect after raw-material shortage in the US led to pharma majors revising production targets, which threatened to derail Biden’s election promise of administering 100 million vaccination shots in his first 100 days in office. 

SII, which is currently manufacturing the AstraZeneca vaccine and is slated to produce the Novavax jab, is dependent on US vendors to procure crucial components such as filters, sterile plastic bags used to grow vaccine cells, and adjuvants – substances that improve the efficacy of a vaccine.

Speaking to Indian news platform Business Standard last week, Poonawalla said the export ban was “as good as banning vaccines,” and noted that SII was looking elsewhere to shore up its supply lines.

Disruptions in the supply of adjuvants hit production hardest, since any change in the authorized adjuvant would require fresh clinical trials and approvals.

“Developing new suppliers at the 11th hour will take a bit of time. We will do that. We will not be dependent on the US after six months. The problem is we need it now,” Poonawalla told the TV network India Today.

READ MORE: Australian medicines regulator reports first blood clot death ‘likely’ linked to AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine

SII, which has already delivered more than 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for domestic use, and exported around 60 million, had hoped to increase its production capacity to 110 million doses per month by June.

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