Covid vaccines’ export may not resume before 2022
Covid-19 vaccine exports from India are unlikely to be resumed before the end of the year when most of the country’s adult population is expected to have been covered, people aware of developments have said.
India was among the biggest exporters of coronavirus vaccines till April, dispatching 66.4 million doses as part of commercial commitments and grants. But it then prohibited doses from being sent abroad as a second wave of infections swept across the country.
“It is still some time before India again starts exporting Covid-19 vaccine doses; does not look like it will happen before the year-end. Though the situation is far better now and looks like the new cases are somewhat stabilizing, still, there is no question of dropping our guard,” said a senior official from the central government, asking not to be named.
“The question of resuming Covid-19 vaccine exports has cropped up in government meetings; but with the fear of the third Covid-19 wave looming and a significant at-risk population, it makes sense to cover a substantial portion of the country’s population first before thinking of resuming exports,” added the official.
The Union secretary for health and family welfare, Rajesh Bhushan, in a press conference on Covid-19 updates on Thursday, also said that preference will be given to the country’s at-risk population first before exports are resumed.
He, however, clarified there was no ban on vaccine exports as neither the health ministry, commerce and industry ministry, department of promotion of industry and internal trade, nor the directorate general of foreign trade has issued any formal orders asking to bar the export of Covid-19 vaccines from the country.
“There has been no trade embargo in place as such; however, each country functions with the aim to ensure that it keeps its population, economy, and social system safe. Therefore, public health response with respect to Covid-19 is also governed by these factors. Once these targets are met we will look into what is the best time to share our vaccine doses with the other countries,” said Bhushan.
The Indian government earlier announced that India was going to vaccinate all its adult population by end of this year. India has close to 940 million people in the category.
As of Friday, India has administered 676,500,301 doses, almost all of which are from the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech – two Indian companies.
Vaccine doses exported by India have been shipped to as many as 93 countries as well as for health care workers with the United Nations and their peacekeepers, as per the ministry of external affairs data.
Vaccine manufacturers such as SII have been in talks with the government regarding the resumption of exports since they have supply commitments.
To meet the demand, and with limited supplies, the government had to make use of supplies meant for exports. In SII’s case, for example, close to 5 million Covishield doses meant to be exported to the UK were utilised to vaccinate the country’s own population.
“The risk isn’t still over so it makes sense to tread cautiously. It sure is a topic of debate whether countries are doing the right thing to give preference to their own population for Covid vaccination, but everyone seems to be doing the same, including the big countries such as US,” said a public health expert, on condition of anonymity.