Optimism is growing that India may resume exports of COVID-19 vaccines as production expands at a rapid pace, putting the country on track to vaccinate its adult population in the coming months.
“We had set a target of 1.85 billion doses for ourselves. It has been held till the end of December and after that the government will be able to allow vaccine exports,” NK Arora, head of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization, told VOA. “We will have several billion doses available next year.”
India, a vaccine powerhouse, was expected to be a major supplier of affordable COVID- 19 vaccines to developing countries.
However, after supplying 66 million doses to nearly 100 countries, New Delhi halted exports in April after a second wave of the pandemic slowed countries’ vaccination programs from Africa to Indonesia.
There is no official comment on the deadline for resumption of exports, with officials insisting that for the time being, the focus is on India’s domestic rollout.
“First of all, all of our adults have to be vaccinated, we have to take care of our people,” Arora said.
The issue of vaccine supply is expected to be discussed at a summit meeting of the quad nations – the United States, Japan, India and Australia – in Washington on Friday.
Public health experts say India will probably wait to restart exports until the country’s festive season ends in November to ensure that it does not have to deal with a third wave. Officials are currently rushing to administer at least one dose to all adults.
India has given nearly two-thirds of its population a shot, but only 20% of its nearly 900 million adults have been fully vaccinated.
In April, the government faced criticism for exporting vaccines when most of its population was not vaccinated, due to a surge in infections.
India has been urged to resume exports as the country’s vaccination program ramps up and the supply of vaccines is increasing.
The World Health Organization said in a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday that it has been assured that supplies from India will resume this year. Officials said the discussions in New Delhi have emphasized the importance of ensuring that India is “part of Africa’s solution”.
African countries have struggled to vaccinate their populations – only 3% of the continent’s population has been vaccinated.
A spokesperson for the Gavi Coalition, co-led by global vaccine sharing platform COVAX, told VOA: “Given the successful ramp-up of domestic production and the decreasing intensity of our own outbreaks, we expect India to ease its restrictions. will do.”
The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest producer of AstraZeneca vaccines, has said exports can resume as India nears a stage where it has enough stocks available for its vaccination campaign.
“In the next two months, we expect a slowdown in exports. But you also have to check with the government; Ultimately it is their decision,” SII chief executive Adar Poonawalla said on Friday.
The institute was to be one of the major suppliers of affordable vaccines to COVAX, but the vaccine-sharing platform’s ability to get enough doses for low- and middle-income countries was hit when India stopped exports.
Of. Srinath Reddy, President K. Srinath Reddy said, “Countries with low levels of vaccination can breed different types and if the world does not cover those there is an opportunity for mutants to grow and creep into other countries, making the epidemic difficult to control. Is.” Public Health Foundation of India said.
Eyes will also be on the Quad summit next week to see how it progresses on the vaccine initiative announced in March, under which four countries will deliver 1 billion doses to India by 2022 with financial support from the United States and Japan. decided to produce.
“The summit will be a good opportunity to take stock of and accelerate that initiative. There have been some talks, let’s see what progress is made,” said an official of India’s Ministry of External Affairs on condition of anonymity.
The vaccines produced under the Quad initiative were for countries in the Indo-Pacific region. These and other developing countries have turned to China, which has supplied more than a billion doses, while Western countries have been seen lagging behind in their efforts to vaccinate developing countries.
However, there are growing expectations that India will emerge as a major global supplier as new production facilities are set up and the basket of vaccines expands.
SII, for example, is set to ramp up production to 200 million doses next month – nearly three times its production in April when India halted exports. Indian companies are set to make millions of doses of both domestically developed vaccines and those developed abroad, such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and Russia’s Sputnik V.
“This may sound like an arrogant statement, but we will be vaccinating many countries next year, and these will be with affordable shots. There is no confusion. India is committed to it and I don’t see any difficulty in that.”