In recent months, the chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, has come under increasing pressure from criticism from both pro-government voices and leaders of the state governments led by opposition politicians.
Some accused him of delays in delivering vaccines; Some called him a “profiteer” for not offering state governments Covid-19 vaccines at cost. There were calls for his company to be nationalized.
In an interview with The Times of London published on Saturday, executive director Adar Poonawalla described threatening phone calls from some of the most powerful men in India who created such an ugly environment that he expected to be out of the country for long periods of time and made plans To produce vaccines elsewhere.
“‘Threats’ is an understatement,” said Mr Poonawalla. “The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented.”
The interview reported that he had flown to London to join his wife and children before Britain banned travelers from India on April 23.
“I’m staying here for a long time because I don’t want to come back to this situation,” he added. “Everything falls on my shoulders, but I can’t do it alone.”
The interview sparked a storm on social media. Some interpreted his interest in manufacturing outside India as a threat to relocating his business; others saw him as being driven out of the country by the wickedness of his critics.
Within a few hours, Mr Poonawalla wrote on Twitter that he would be returning to India “in a few days”.
The New York Times was unable to contact Mr. Poonawalla directly on Saturday and a request for comment from his company was not immediately returned.
India, the world’s leading manufacturer of vaccines, struggles to vaccinate its way out of crisis as an insatiable second wave paints a picture of death and despair. When the cases were relatively low, the country exported more than 60 million shots. On Saturday, India expanded vaccination eligibility to anyone over the age of 18, but many states said they could not meet demand due to dose shortages.
Less than 2 percent of India’s 940 million adults are fully vaccinated. This is evident from data compiled from government sources in the Our World in Data project at Oxford University. The country’s largest city, Mumbai, has just stopped all vaccinations because they have essentially run out, and several states have also reported vaccine shortages.
All of this has made Mr. Poonawalla, a 40-year-old billionaire, a focus of public anger.
Last month the Serum Institute wrote a letter to the Indian Minister of the Interior asking for security and referring to the threats against Mr Poonawalla. Just a few days ago, the federal government announced that it had completed a threat assessment and was being protected by the Central Reserve Police Force. On the same day, Mr Poonawalla announced on Twitter that he was unilaterally cutting the cost of a Covid vaccine to make it more affordable for the government to buy.