Amid worries over four monkeypox cases in India, vaccine-maker Adar Poonawalla said today that he is exploring the possibility of importing smallpox vaccine in bulk “in an emergency situation”. He also said the Serum Institute of India (SII) is in talks with Novovax to develop a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine for monkeypox.
Smallpox vaccines from Denmark’s Bavarian Nordic could be in India in three months, Mr Poonawalla told NDTV, adding that Serum Institute has the capacity to bulk manufacture smallpox vaccines under license.
“As a vaccine manufacturer equipped with technological knowhow, we are looking at talking to partners. We are talking to Novovax. We really need to see whether there will be a lot of demand or whether in three to four months it fizzles out,” Mr Poonawalla said.
In theory, he said, it could take more than a year to make a vaccine from scratch.
“In an emergency situation, we could always do the full finish of the product made by that company. That would give access to Indians without safety issues – since the vaccine is time-tested. To make it from scratch will take some time. Bulk supply should be adequate to handle,” Mr Poonawalla said.
He said it was “not a mystery” that monkeypox cases were coming up. “It has been around for decades,” he said. The only difference was that the global health system was more trained and equipped to detect and tackle infectious diseases.
A vaccine for monkeypox, however, is different from that for Covid, in which a vast variety of technologies are used.
“You need special containment facilities to handle that vaccine. We are not equipped in India to do that at the moment. That can change…we have some facilities. We are talking to our partners…we could potentially make an mRNA candidate for monkeypox,” the Serum Institute chief said.
The Serum Institute manufacturers Covishield, the Indian version of the Oxford-Astrazeneca Covid vaccine.