The leader of one of the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturers said he fled India because of menacing threats

Serum Institute of India's CEO Adar Poonawalla.
Serum Institute of India’s CEO Adar Poonawalla.

  • Adar Poonawalla, the leader of a major vaccine manufacturer, said he fled India due to threats.
  • Poonawalla leads the Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer.
  • The COVID-19 situation in India is so dire that Poonawalla said people have been hurling threats at him, accusing him of delaying vaccines on purpose.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The CEO of the Serum Institute, a vaccine manufacturer in India, said he fled the country because of incessant threats against him.

In an interview with the Times of London, Adar Poonawalla said he went to England to escape threats from people claiming he’s holding up vaccines.

“‘Threats’ is an understatement,” Poonawalla said. “The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented.”

“It’s overwhelming. Everyone feels they should get the vaccine. They can’t understand why anyone else should get it before them,” he added. “They are saying if you don’t give us the vaccine it’s not going to be good. It’s not foul language. It’s the tone. It’s the implication of what they might do if I don’t comply.”

The Serum Institute is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, producing more than 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca and Oxford vaccine every month.

At the time of his interview, Poonawalla said he’d stay in England for “an extended time, because I don’t want to go back to that situation.”

“Everything falls on my shoulders, but I can’t do it alone,” he added.

Hours after the interview was published, Poonawalla backtracked and wrote on Twitter that he’d return to India “in a few days.”

The news of his departure from India comes as the country experiences deep surges in positive COVID-19 cases.

The nation reported a record high of 401,993 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday. No other country has breached 400,000 daily cases.

Crematoriums across India are overwhelmed with bodies. Patients are dying as hospitals run out of oxygen. The country had reported more than 300,000 new cases each day for nine consecutive days before hitting the 400,000 mark.

India also reported more than 3,500 deaths on Saturday – the fourth day in a row that death counts have surpassed 3,000. Those numbers are likely an undercount. A New York Times investigation published this week found “mounting evidence” that suggested fatalities are being “overlooked or downplayed” by the government.

The situation has gotten so bad that people have surrounded his company multiple times and called him a “profiteer” of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“I don’t think even God could have forecast it was going to get this bad,” Poonawalla said in the interview.

Insider’s Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed to this report.

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