In recent months, the chief executive of India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has come under increasing pressure as both pro-government voices and leaders of state governments led by opposition politicians criticized.
Some accused him of delaying the supply of vaccines; some called it “profitable” because it did not offer Covid-19 vaccines to state governments at a price. There were calls for his company to be nationalized.
In an interview with The Times in London on Saturday, CEO Adar Poonawalla described threatening calls from some of India̵
“Threats are an understatement,” Mr Poonawalla said. “The level of anticipation and aggression is truly unprecedented.”
The interview said he flew to London to join his wife and children hours before Britain banned travelers from India on April 23.
“I’m staying here for a long time because I don’t want to go 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, with some interpreting his interest in manufacturing outside India as a threat to relocate his business, while others saw him expelled from the country by the viciousness of his critics.
A few hours later, Mr Poonawalla wrote on Twitter that he would return to India “in a few days”.
The New York Times was unable to contact Mr Poonawalla directly on Saturday and his company’s request for comment was not returned immediately.
India, the world’s leading vaccine maker, is struggling to get vaccinated from the crisis as the insatiable second wave leaves a table of death and despair. When the cases were relatively low, the country released more than 60 million photos. On Saturday, India extended vaccination eligibility to all people over the age of 18, but many countries said they would not be able to meet demand due to a shortage of doses.
Less than 2 percent of India’s 940 million adults are fully vaccinated, according to data collected by government sources from the Our World in Data project at Oxford University. Several states have reported a shortage of vaccines, enough to thwart plans in some to expand access for all 18 and older on Saturday.
All this made Mr. Poonawalla, a 40-year-old billionaire, the focus of public anger.
Last month, the Serum Institute wrote a letter to the Federal Interior Minister of India requesting security, citing threats against Mr Poonawalla. Just a few days ago, the federal government said it had assessed the threat and would force the central reserve police force to protect it. That same day, Mr Poonawalla announced on Twitter that he was unilaterally reducing the price of the Covid vaccine to make it more affordable for government purchases.