- India delay big exports of COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca
- India witnesses a huge surge in COVID-19 cases
- The AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine is being made by the Serum Institute of India
A temporary hold has been put by India on all of the major exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the novel coronavirus made by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine-maker by production, to meet the domestic demand the cases of COVID-19 surge, two sources told international news agency Reuters.
This decision will also impact the supplies to the GAVI (formerly known as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations)/ WHO (World Health Organisation)-backed global COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, via which 64 lower-income countries are to get their doses from SII, told the programme’s procurement and distributing partner UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) to Reuters.
In an email, UNICEF said, “We understand that deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines to lower-income economies participating in the COVAX facility will likely face delays following a setback in securing export licences for further doses of COVID-19 vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), expected to be shipped in March and April”.
“COVAX is in talks with the Government of India with a view to ensuring deliveries as quickly as possible,” it added.
As of now, COVAX has received 17.7 million (1.77 crore) doses of AstraZeneca from SII of the 60.5 million (6 crore) doses that India has shipped in total. Many countries have been heavily relying on this programme to immunise their citizens.
Since Thursday, India has not exported vaccines, as per the data shared on the foreign ministry’s website, as India tries to expand its immunisation efforts given an increase in COVID-19 cases on a daily basis.
On of the sources were quoted by NDTV as, “Everything else has taken a backseat, for the time being at least.”
Both the sources, NDTV cited, had direct knowledge of the matter, however, declined to be named as the discussions are not public yet.
“No exports, nothing till the time the India situation stabilises. The government won’t take such a big chance at the moment when so many need to be vaccinated in India,” the source said.
The Serum Institute has already delayed shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca to Brazil, Britain, Morocco and also Saudi Arabia. The British authorities are in touch with New Delhi to get its second batch of 5 million (50 lakh) doses which were ordered from SII.
Even COVAX has a deal where it will buy 1.1 billion (110 crore) doses of both AstraZeneca and Novavax shots that the SII is producing in bulk, mainly for low- and middle-income countries.
UNICEF, in Vietnam, in a statement made on Wednesday said that vaccine production issues had led to delays in deliveries to all countries which were due to receive the COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX.
Talking to Reuters, UNICEF said that COVAX has informed the participating countries that they would receive a lower than previously expected volumes in March of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine produced in South Korea.
It said, “In line with the challenges of the current global supply environment, this is due to challenges the company faces in rapidly scaling up supply and optimising production processes for these early deliveries”.
AstraZeneca told COVAX that it would make up for the delayed volumes in the coming month – April and May– said UNICEF.
Cabinet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi led government, this week, decided that it will widen its inoculation drive by including everyone above 45 from the 1st of, and many states have been battling a surge in infections and have demanded that all adults be covered.
India has seen a total of 11.7 million (1.17 crore) cases of COVID-19 which stands 3rd highest in the world after only the USA (1) and Brazil (2).
As of now, India is vaccinating only the elderly and those over 45 years of age with other health conditions. The Health and frontline workers were first in line when India began its drive in mid-January.
So far India has administered over 52 million (5.2 crore) doses, out of which 47 million (4.7 crore) are the locally made AstraZeneca vaccine by SII. The rest is the COVAXIN vaccine which was developed in India by Bharat Biotech.
So far, the Indian government has asked SII to supply close to 141 million (14.1 crore) doses and SII has accounted for almost 100% of India’s vaccine exports.
SOO is planning to boost its monthly production to 100 million (10 crore) doses from April/May from the current capacity of 70 million (7 crore), reported Reuters, earlier in March.