Government Must Protect Vaccine Makers Against Lawsuits, Frivolous Claims: SII CEO Adar Poonawalla

Adar Poonawalla's comments come weeks after a 40-year-old man who took part in the ‘Covishield’ vaccine trial in Chennai had leveled against the company, alleging serious side effects, including a virtual neurological breakdown and impairment of cognitive functions.

Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla.

Vaccine manufacturers need to be granted protection against all forms of lawsuits for their vaccines especially during a pandemic, Serum Institute of India (SII) Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla said.

Adar Poonawalla’s comments came weeks after a 40-year-old man who took part in the ‘Covishield’ vaccine trial in Chennai had leveled against the company, alleging serious side effects, including a virtual neurological breakdown and impairment of cognitive functions.

Poonawalla, who made the comments during a virtual panel discussion on the challenges to vaccine development said that the vaccine makers are going to propose this idea to the government.

“We need to have the government indemnify manufacturers, especially vaccine manufacturers, and against all lawsuits. In fact, COVAX and other countries have already started talking about that,” Poonawalla said.

Poonawalla said that when “frivolous” claims crop up and are blown out of proportion, it affects the confidence of not just people opposed to vaccination but the general public too.

NDTV reported that the SII had sent a legal notice to the volunteer saying the company, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, wanted to safeguard its reputation ‘which is being unfairly maligned.’

The CEO said the vaccine manufacturers should stay focussed on their work and not get distracted by ‘frivolous lawsuits’. He said the government should step in and work with influencers to spread the right message.

“..the government can act, the US, for example, has in fact invoked a law, to say that during a pandemic, and this is especially important only during a pandemic, to indemnify vaccine manufacturers against lawsuits for severe adverse effects or any other frivolous claims which may come about, because that adds to the fear and also will bankrupt vaccine manufacturers or distract them if they have to just all-day fight lawsuits and explain to the media what is happening,” Poonawalla said.

These are a few things that the government can do and that is what the vaccine manufacturers are going to propose, he added.

In November,  a Chennai-based volunteer who had taken SII’s Covishield as part of mid-to late-stage clinical trials to test the safety and immunogenicity of the Covid-19 vaccine in India, sent SII a legal notice seeking Rs 5 crore in compensation.

The participant claimed neurological and psychological issues as a result of taking the coronavirus vaccine dose and demanded, the testing, manufacturing, and distribution of experimental coronavirus vaccine ‘Covishield’ be halted immediately.

Refuting the charges, Serum had said, “It is evident that the intention behind spreading such malicious information is an oblique pecuniary motive. The Serum Institute of India will seek damages in excess of Rs 100 crore for the same and will defend such malicious claims”.

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