World's leading vaccine producer says UK will be first to get new Covid jab

  • Video report by Senior International Correspondent John Irvine

The CEO of the world's leading vaccine producer says he believes the UK will be among the first countries to receive the new coronavirus jab.

Adar Poonawalla's Serum Institute of India has committed to producing a billion doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine once the necessary safety tests are passed.

Speaking to ITV News, he says his firm is primed and ready to get the vaccine off the production line and into the arms of the world once the necessary sign-offs are given.

"It's going to be the Indians who get it first, at least from what I'm making, and you're going to have AstraZeneca producing it for the UK," he said.

"So if you're talking about from a global perspective, probably the UK will get it first. Then you're going to have some other countries perhaps in Europe at the same time after that whatever AstraZeneca has plan there.

"And then you've got India, as soon as we start getting, as soon as we get our emergency use license, we'll give it to India and then start offering it to African countries."

  • India ready to produce 400 million vaccine doses by end of July, says vaccine CEO

The Oxford vaccine has the added benefit of being able to be stored at fridge temperature and is low cost compared to some of its other competitors, making it a viable option for more disadvantaged parts of the world.

This, Mr Poonawalla says, means it can be a "vaccine for the world".

"It protects the elderly gives you a good T-cell response and it has had zero cases of hospitalisation," he said.

"It's very affordable because we're making it so that's the added bonus. And so you've got five or six of these advantages and bonuses and it is therefore the most universal.

"It will probably be the most universally used vaccine."

Logistical concerns about vaccine distribution within India have been raised, but Mr Poonawalla believes the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure up to 400 million doses can be transported from the production line to different areas across the country by the end of July.

  • World's leading vaccine producer plays down role

Mr Poonawalla said: "We're relying mainly largely on the government infrastructure, which is very much there. "And they are used to handling any way five to 600 million doses of vaccines on an annual basis." He added: "We'll rope in other private players, whether it's hospitals or other cultural logistical firms to be able to distribute transport and store these vaccines." He said the initial plan was to produce 400 million doses by July 2021, which is "very easy."

The 39-year-old CEO joined his father's business in 2001. The Poonawalla family inherited land in Pune, India, but has been one of the world's major vaccine players since it was founded in 1966.

A researcher at the Jenner Institute working on the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford coronavirus vaccine Credit: John Cairns/University of Oxford

The world has become so reliant on their vaccines, ITV News Correspondent John Irvine described Mr Poonawall as the "Henry Ford of vaccines".

"I wouldn't go that far," Mr Poonawalla said.

"We've just tried to do our best and I know it's all looking like that at the moment. It is overwhelming, and I'm really humbled with it, with the encourage, our encouragement and love and support that everybody's given us.

"I just hope that I can now perform and deliver on all these big promises that we've made, you know, so I think that's what we're looking forward in 2021, as you say, it's a huge responsibility on my shoulders on everybody else at serum Institute. And I just really hope that we can deliver on the expectation."