Vaccine producer says it could take ‘four to five years’ for the world to receive a COVID-19 dose

Adar Poonawalla, CEO and owner of Serum Institute in Pune, India, on July 10. The Serum Institute is doing what few other companies in the race for a vaccine are doing: Mass-producing hundreds of millions of doses of a vaccine candidate that is still in trials and might not even work. ATUL LOKE/NYT

The head executive of the world’s largest vaccine producer is cautioning that the world’s population may not be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus until at least the end of 2024, he said in an interview with the Financial Times.

Adar Poonawalla, chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, told the Financial Times that it’s “going to take four to five years until everyone gets the vaccine on this planet,” noting that companies aren’t upping production capacity quickly enough.

Poonawalla said that his company’s commitment to produce 1 billion doses is the most among similar companies. “I know the world wants to be optimistic on it... [but] I have not heard of anyone coming even close to that [level] right now,” he told the Financial Times.

He also said if we need double shots of the vaccine per person — similar to vaccinations for illnesses like measles — then the world may need 15 billion doses. Poonawalla’s company, which has partnered with five international pharmaceutical firms, has already committed to produce 1 billion doses; half of those doses are earmarked for India, according to the Financial Times.

Poonawalla is a voice worth considering on the matter. The Serum Institute is working with Oxford researchers, AstraZeneca, and Novavax (among others) to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine, and each year produces about 1.5 billion doses of other vaccines, according to The New York Times. The company is also responsible for making COVID-19 vaccine doses for a large chunk of the developing world, according to the Financial Times. In fact, about half the world’s children have received vaccination doses from Poonawalla’s company, according to The New York Times.

Poonawalla’s comments come after revelations surfaced earlier this month that CDC officials asked health officials nationwide to prepare to distribute a vaccine to front-line workers as soon as late October or early November. However, the timing immediately led to skepticism among some that the Trump administration could be rushing a vaccine, or at least the promise of one, to win political points ahead of the presidential election on Nov. 3.

Wire material from the New York Times was used in this report.

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