The chief of the world's largest vaccine maker has asked the government to indemnify manufacturers against lawsuits. Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla has asked the government to protect vaccine-makers from "frivolous lawsuits" as the company prepares to roll out vaccines to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Poonawalla's comment comes weeks after a volunteer in Chennai alleged he suffered adverse effects from the Oxford vaccine trials. The Serum Institute of India (SII) defended a legal notice it had sent to the volunteer, saying it wanted to "safeguard the reputation of the company which is being unfairly maligned."
"We need to have the government indemnify manufacturers, especially vaccine manufacturers, against all lawsuits. In fact Covax and other countries have already started talking about that. What's happening is when frivolous claims come up, and you see in the media something blown out of proportion... To dispel that the government needs to step in, with messaging with influencers to spread the right message," Mr Poonawalla said at the Global Technology Summit 2020, organised by Carnegie India with The Print as its digital partner.
Protocols have been set up to manage adverse reactions - minor, severe or serious - to the coronavirus vaccine, the government said in a press briefing on Tuesday, as it admitted that there is always "the possibility of an adverse event" post-immunisation.
The COVID-19 vaccine, when it becomes available, will be offered first to healthcare workers, frontline workers and people above 50, followed by those younger than 50 with associated comorbidities, and finally to the remaining population based on disease epidemiology and vaccine availability.
Mr Poonawalla said vaccine manufacturers need to focus on their work and "frivolous lawsuits" could "distract them all day long", adding such lawsuits can eventually bankrupt vaccine-makers.
"Adverse events post-immunisation is a critical aspect. Even during universal immunisation, which has been going on for decades, some adverse effects are seen in children and pregnant women. So we can't deny the possibility of an adverse event," Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said at a press briefing on Tuesday, adding adverse effects had already been reported from countries where vaccination had begun.
India surged past one crore coronavirus cases on Saturday, government data shows; it's the second-highest in the world, although new infection rates have fallen sharply in recent weeks.
Over 95 lakh recoveries and 145,136 deaths have been reported so far, according to the Health Ministry.