Adar Poonawalla still ‘missing’: buzz over Serum Institute chief’s overstay in London


When will India’s vaccine czar and CEO of Serum Institute of India, Adar Poonawalla return to India from London, where he has been stationed since early May? Nobody seems to know. Emails sent to SII and Mr Poonawalla’s PR agencies remain unanswered. This copy will be updated once their replies are received.

Poonawalla, who was provided Y-category security by the Union Home Ministry just before his sudden departure from the country, had announced that he will return to India “in a few days” after reaching London.

“Had an excellent meeting with all our partners and stakeholders in the UK. Meanwhile, pleased to state that Covishield’s production is in full swing in Pune. I look forward to reviewing operations upon my return in a few days,” he said in a midnight tweet on May 1.

Had an excellent meeting with all our partners & stakeholders in the U.K. Meanwhile, pleased to state that COVISHIELD’s production is in full swing in Pune. I look forward to reviewing operations upon my return in a few days.

It may be recalled that in an interview with British newspaper The Times, Adar Poonawalla mentioned receiving “threatening calls” as the reason behind his sudden departure. Poonawalla said he had been getting phone calls from the “most powerful” in India, including chief ministers, and business leaders, for immediate supply of Covishield vaccine.

“Threats is an understatement. 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,” Poonawalla said referring to the phone calls.

Poonawalla left India just two days before Britain announced a ban on travelling from India.

NH has sent two emails seeking Serum Institute’s comments on various issues including Poonawalla’s return, but it has maintained a studied silence.

In reply to the first email dated May 12, Michael Vernekar, secretary to Poonawalla, redirected the queries to Mayank Sen of Moe’s Art, which handles the firm’s public relations. Vernekar tagged Mayank Sen in his response to the email, but Sen did not respond.

The second mail was sent on June 9 which, in the wake of a changed pandemic situation in the country, contained fresh queries, including total number of vaccine doses produced by the company, its plan to ramp up production, international commitments and about when Poonawalla was likely to return to India.

However, till the time of publishing of this report, no response has been received either from the Serum Institute or from Poonawalla’s office.

A subsidiary of Poonawalla Investment and Industries, Serum Institute was founded by Adar Poonawalla’s father, Cyrus Poonawalla on June 12, 1966.

Incidentally, 15 days after Adar Poonawalla’s departure from India, Cyrus also left the country on May 16.

Cyrus Poonawalla told The Sunday Express from London that he went there on a routine “summer vacation”. Any suggestion that he, or his son, had “left” the country in this time of crisis was “false and malicious”, he said.

“From the time I can recollect, I have been out of India in the month of May. One wants to take a summer vacation, and this time it is nothing new,” he said.

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