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India is stuck with a COVID-19 vaccine that it cannot export

A woman reacts to receiving a dose of COVISHIELD vaccine at a shopping mall in Mumbai
A woman reacts as she receives a dose of COVISHIELD, a vaccine against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, at a shopping mall in Mumbai, India, today. August 11, 2021. REUTERS / Francis Mascarenhas / Files

December 14, 2021

By Krishna N. Das

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India is having a hard time exporting its surplus of COVID-19 vaccines as logistical barriers delay their use in many countries despite low vaccination levels. , the vaccine maker under the Serum Institute of India (SII) and a government official said on Tuesday. .

SII, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer producing AstraZeneca, Novavax and Sputnik COVID-19 shots, has announced plans to temporarily halve the production of AstraZeneca until more orders are placed, including including possibly via rocket boosters.

“Worldwide, there is enough supply but it is under attack, this is going to take some time,” SII CEO Adar Poonawalla said at a virtual conference organized by Confederation of Indian Industry.

“Some countries have only vaccinated 10 or 15% of the population, they really need 60-70%. There’s a lot of demand there, but it’s going to be widespread now as supply has replaced monthly demand. “

India’s top health official Vinod Kumar Paul also told the same event that the current global production of the COVID-19 vaccine is enough to reach the nearly 3.6 billion unvaccinated people.

“India is in a position to deliver a vaccine, but is there any traction (for it)?” he asks. “The debate should be how do we accelerate supply, improve absorption in many countries, especially in the African continent.”

Africa’s disease control agency said late last month many of its countries were grappling with vaccine logistics, as cash inflows spiked after months of delays.

About 8% of Africa’s total population of about 1.3 billion is fully immunized. India, with the same population, has fully immunized 37% of them with the goal of giving two doses to all 939 million adults next month.

India’s vaccine demand was around 252 million doses last month, compared with the country’s domestic production capacity of more than 345 million doses a month for the three approved key injections alone.

Monthly production of SII’s AstraZeneca vaccine, brand Covishield, has nearly quadrupled since April to 250 million doses. The drug dominates India’s vaccination program but the company has no further orders from the government.

The COVAX platform that distributes vaccines mainly to low-income countries has only sought around 40 million doses of Covishield from SII between November and December after New Delhi lifted its export ban.

COVAX, which has the option to purchase up to 550 million doses of Covishield, is no longer reliant on SII as it was before India abruptly stopped exporting vaccines in April to immunize itself as infections surge. Many vaccines have been approved since then.

Seth Berkeley, CEO of Gavi, which advocates COVAX, told the industry event: “It is important if India wants to continue to supply the world with pharmaceuticals even during difficult times.

“Otherwise, countries will need to consider alternative providers.”

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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DUSTIN JONES

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