India’s COVID-19 vaccine export may be curbed

India’s COVID-19 vaccine export may be curbed

Supply schedule could be calibrated to meet domestic need, says official

Amidst a fresh surge in COVID-19 cases in India, and the rollout of vaccines for those above 45 years from April 1, the government has hinted it may need to “calibrate” its supply schedules to other countries, although it has not proposed a full ban on exports at this time.

According to Global vaccine alliance GAVI, which runs the COVAX programme, Indian vaccine supplies to lower income countries are being delayed “as the Government of India battles a new wave of COVID-19 infections”.

A statement from GAVI said that while it had receive 28 million Covishield doses from the Serum Institute of India (SII), it was unclear about additional supplies of 40 million in March and 50 million in April, and was in talks with the government and SII over the issue.

The decision comes as several countries including the U.K., Brazil, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Nepal have experienced, or expect to experience, a delay in the supply of Indian-made vaccines. In addition, a UNICEF representative has said export licences from India had been held up.

“Given our current manufacturing capacity and requirements of national vaccination programmes, there may be a need to calibrate the supply schedules from time to time. All stakeholders would have to work together to adjust the schedules as required,” an official source said on Wednesday night, stressing that India remains “committed” to its vaccine supplies to the world. 

The source said that “unlike many other countries”, the government has not placed a ban on exports, but that COVID-19 vaccine supplies to other countries would be made in a phased manner “keeping in view the domestic requirements”.

Sent as grants 

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, India has exported more than 60 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines since January 20 this year.

While about 8 million were grants from the Government of India to other countries, most of the supplies have been procured by the international GAVI alliance that runs the COVAX facility (17.86 million) and commercial orders (34.17 million). 

The shipments, all part of the decision to allow exports under the “Vaccine Maitri” programme, which has been praised worldwide, could now see a slowdown, the government appeared to indicate. 

On Thursday, UNICEF also confirmed the delays.

“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 licenses for further doses of COVID-19 vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), expected to be shipped in March and April,” UNICEF said in an email to news agency Reuters. 

While the government has not confirmed a “go-slow” on export permits, the official source said India has already supplied vaccine doses to 75 countries worldwide. “No other country has supplied the world with as many doses as India has so far,” the source added. 

Last week, the British National Health Services (NHS) had written to hospitals warning of an impending shortage of AstraZeneca vaccines in light of what officials called a “four-week delay” of about half the orders expected from SII in Pune. In parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said delayed delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines made by the SII, as well as the need to retest some batches, had caused the delay.

SII CEO Adar Poonawalla had sounded an alarm in early March over the shortage of raw materials need from the U.S., which the Biden administration has now requisitioned for the American production of the Pfizer vaccines. Mr. Poonawalla is understood to have written to authorities in Brazil, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, explaining that a number of reasons, including the fire in SII facilities in January, had held up supplies. Meanwhile, the Nepal government decided to postpone in vaccination drive this week, in the face of vaccine shortages from India, local newspapers reported quoting the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP).

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