W Power 2024

Explained: Why AstraZeneca has withdrawn Covid-19 vaccine sales, and what it means for India

While the Serum Institute of India has not yet made any statements of withdrawal, experts say that eventually, all 'monovalent' vaccines, or those that deal with the original Wuhan strain of Covid-19, will be discontinued

Published: May 8, 2024 02:25:01 PM IST
Updated: Jun 12, 2024 02:43:53 PM IST

Explained: Why AstraZeneca has withdrawn Covid-19 vaccine sales, and what it means for IndiaIn March, AstraZeneca voluntarily withdrew its marketing authorisation for the European Union, which meant it would no longer be able to market its medicine in member states. Image: Getty Images

Multi-national pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has announced that it will withdraw sales of its Covid-19 vaccine globally, since there is a ‘surplus’ of more updated vaccine options that target new variants of the virus, as per a report in The Telegraph.
 
The AstraZeneca vaccine is called Vaxzevria, and, in India, it’s sold as Covishield, developed and manufactured by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India. It has been administered through 175 crore doses across the country.
 
In March, AstraZeneca voluntarily withdrew its marketing authorisation for the European Union, which meant it would no longer be able to market its medicine in member states.
 
While the company states this is a business decision, a response to the declining sales of the older vaccine since other options are more relevant, it comes at a time when the vaccine has come under scrutiny for causing side effects. In April, AstraZeneca admitted in court that its Covid-19 vaccine, “can, in very rare cases, cause TTS”.
 
TTS or Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome is a serious condition resulting in low platelet count and formation of blood clots. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, and easy bruising.
 
The admission was in response to the complaint filed by 51 people in the United Kingdom, including Jamie Scott. The UK-based father of two had claimed that he was left with a permanent brain injury after developing a blood clot and a bleed on the brain since 2021 after he took the vaccine, and, therefore, has been unable to work.

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Despite the concerns, health experts maintain that the vaccine is safe and effective, and that any vaccine or medication can have adverse impact on certain individuals. The number of people affected constitutes such side effects as rare.
 
In India too, families of individuals such as Karunya’s, are pursuing legal action against AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India. Karunya was jabbed with Covishield and died in July 2021, a month after taking the vaccine, due to multisystem inflammatory syndrome.
 
“Covishield has been very well-tested. It has gone through all the scientific analysis and trials and it is a very, very safe vaccine. There is no need to panic,” says Dr Rakesh Sharma, director of Tata Institute for Genetics and Society.
 
“We are incredibly proud of the role Vaxzevria played in ending the global pandemic,” a statement by AstraZeneca says. “According to independent estimates, over 6.5 million lives were saved in the first year of use alone and over three billion doses were supplied globally. Our efforts have been recognised by governments around the world and are widely regarded as being a critical component of ending the global pandemic.”
 
“As multiple, variant Covid-19 vaccines have since been developed, there is a surplus of available updated vaccines. We will now work with regulators and our partners to align on a clear path forward to conclude this chapter and significant contribution to the Covid-19 pandemic,” the statement continued.
 
According to reports, neither has SII announced any plans to discontinue the vaccine’s production so far, nor has it undertaken manufacturing of new batches in the past two years. However, experts predict that all ‘monovalent’ vaccines, or those that deal with the original strain, will be withdrawn and replaced with updated vaccines.  
 



(This story appears in the 30 May, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)