- N K Arora admitted government was banking on sharper rise in production
- He said that the initial couple of batches did not pass quality issues.
- He said production is expected to ramp up in the next four to six weeks
As the government struggles to ramp up the production of Covid shots to meet its target of vaccinating all adults by the year-end, the supply of Bharat Biotech's Covaxin has been slowed down because the first few batches at the company's newest facility in Bengaluru were not of the right quality, a top government adviser has said.
In an exclusive interview to NDTV, Covid task force member NK Arora admitted that the government was banking on a much sharper rise in the production of Covaxin - one of the two main vaccines in use in India - but was set back because of the quality issues at what is the company's biggest plant globally.
"Vaccine manufacturing is almost like rocket science. We were expecting a much sharper rise in the production of Covaxin. They have started a new facility in Bengaluru. In addition three public sector undertaking are also working together to augment the total output. Ultimately we are expecting 10-12 crore doses from Bharat Biotech," said Dr Arora, who heads the Covid working group.
"The Bangalore plant was one of the largest vaccine manufacturing plants globally. But the initial couple of batches did not pass quality issues...It was not of the right quality. But the third and fourth batches have now come up which have moved forward. We hope in the next four or six weeks the vaccine production will really ramp up from Bharat Biotech," he told NDTV.
Dr Arora explained that only recently had the Bangalore plant started producing better batches. "They are on the second batch of clear quality. Now there will be rapid ramping up. In the next few weeks there will be an exponential increase in production," he said.
These batches, which were not of the right quality, were never released for the national vaccination campaign, Dr Arora clarified in a conversation subsequent to the interview.
Vaccination is among the biggest priorities for the government at a time Covid cases are rising in parts of the country and experts are predicting a third wave that will peak sometime in October.
India needs 30 crore doses a month in order to vaccinate close to a crore a day - its daily quota if it wants to meet the December target. This means Bharat Biotech has to scale up production from about one or two crores a day to 10 crores - a big jump. Is that possible, Dr Arora was asked.
"I am given to understand that in the next few weeks it is possible that they will increase production several-fold," he replied.
As for the public sector facilities roped in to boost supply, Dr Arora denied any gaps in technology transfer from Bharat Biotech.
Indian Immunological, he said, would start production in the next two-three months. "And Haffkine and BIBCOL (Bharat Immunologicals and Biologicals Limited) - will take much longer. The technology transfer is on track," he said.