Serum Institute worked the clocks to replenish Canada’s vaccine short supply
It’s vaccine maitri to the fore yet again for India as 500,000 doses made by the SII are now set to be received by Canadian authorities, following speedy approval by health regulators, so that their national vaccine programme can get underway.
In yet another display of vaccine maitri India assured Canada that it could rely on the former for assistance in these trying times.
Even as AstraZeneca’s European production unit faced problems a last minute roll of the dice ensured that the Covid-19 vaccine produced in India received the stamp of approval from Canadian drug regulators. A version of the vaccine was made by the Serum Institute of India (SII). The SII filed the application with a Canadian partner, Verity Pharmaceuticals to receive the go-ahead.
Thanks to this pro-activity at least 500,000 doses made by the SII are now set to be received by Canadian authorities so that their national vaccine programme can get underway.
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Last month India Global Business had reported that Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau contacted his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and New Delhi had stated its willingness to assist by assuring the former that it would ensure the delivery of vaccines to combat the pandemic and help Canada roll out its vaccination programme which is lagging, when compared to other nations, given that it is facing a supply shortfall.
According to Reuters, Canada said it agreed to buy 2 million vaccine doses from Verity and Serum by mid-May, enough to vaccinate as much as 2.7% of its population. Only about 3.6% of Canadians have received at least one vaccine dose in Canada, according to volunteer-run data project COVID-19 Tracker Canada.
A lightning 6 weeks
In an interview to the media Verity’s Chief Executive Howard Chase stated that, "It's been a lightning six weeks. The health regulators have really outdone each other ... They've really put in 24- hour days."
Canada trails many developed nations in inoculations as the world works toward vaccinating enough people to halt the pandemic that has claimed more than 2.5 million lives globally.
The SII shipment comes weeks after Modi’s assurance to Trudeau, a sign of improving diplomatic relations that soured after the Canadian premier had expressed concern over India's farmer protests late last year while facing pressure from internal forces.
India is currently the global hub for vaccine manufacturing while Canada does not yet have a vaccine manufacturing facility of its own and is reliant on foreign supplies.
Resetting Indo-Canadian ties
India’s latest gesture should ensure that Indo-Canadian trade and ties are reenergized. Quite a few earlier discussions have been mothballed by both countries and the time would be ripe for them to be reset. The Canada India Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) trade deal was ditched after 10 rounds of intense discussions over a span of seven years in 2010 after former premier Stephen Harper’s visit to India and a forecast for a GDP gain of $6-16 billion was made for Canada. The government in a public statement in the following year’s throne speech declared its intention to complete negotiations on the deal in 2013. It has not moved an inch thus far.
A similar story engulfs the BIPPA arrangement which was almost closed out in 2014 but for the introduction of a draft BIT (bilateral investment treaty) that reduced provisions like investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism and asked all partner countries to renegotiate such existing treaties. This put Canada in a spot as it had already spent substantial energy and time in negotiations and did not want to protract anymore. The opportunities that are in front of these two countries are manifold but somewhere in the background there is the pressing need to dial up the warmth in Indo-Canadian diplomatic vibes. There is no better time than now for both nations to reconnect on certain platforms once again should Trudeau stay true to the course and not veer away once again.
SII plays a leading role
SII’s role in this recent drama is significant considering the fact that AstraZeneca had warned its EU customers in January that a vaccine shortfall was imminent due to production issues. Enter Serum when the British drugmaker approached it to make doses for Canada.
According to Reuters, Canadian collaboration with SII is not new. Verity Pharmaceutical had been worked with SII on a product called BCG, a tuberculosis vaccine that can also treat some bladder cancers. Canadian patients had endured years of shortages, so Verity applied to import a supply made by SII. That application was approved with conditions in December 2020, regulatory records show.
As part of that process, Verity brought Health Canada inspectors to SII more than a year ago. That meant it did not have to visit again to approve the vaccine manufacturing site. Separately, Britain's drug regulator inspected SII's manufacturing operations last month. The UK and Canadian regulators have a mutual recognition agreement that makes their manufacturing site approvals equivalent.
Health Canada and Verity's staff put in long hours to get the approval done, working through the night to get the document describing the vaccine's properties and intended uses, known as a product monograph, translated, proofed and approved within hours.