India rolls out over 5 lakh doses of Covid-19 vaccines despite slowdown in exports
India has rolled out more than 500,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines as grants, including 200,000 doses for UN peacekeepers, since last week despite a slowdown in vaccine exports in order to focus on its domestic immunisation programme amid a spike in cases.
Since March 26, vaccines have been donated to Paraguay and Fiji (100,000 doses each), Zimbabwe (35,000 doses), Niger (25,000 doses), the Nepali Army (100,000 doses) and UN peacekeepers (200,000 doses), according to data from the government. Another 25,000 doses were provided to Palestine through the WHO-backed COVAX facility.
On Tuesday, the Covid-19 vaccines gifted by the Indian Army to the Nepali Army were handed over by Indian envoy Vinay Mohan Kwatra to the Nepali Army chief, Gen Puran Chandra Thapa, during a ceremony held in Tundikhel. The Indian Army chief, Gen MM Naravane, joined the ceremony via video conference and reaffirmed the special fraternal bonds between the two armies.
The Indian Army has been assisting the Nepali Army to fight Covid-19 through different types of assistance since last year, including the supply of the drug Remdesivir, X-ray machines, computerised radiography systems, ICU ventilators, video endoscopy units, anaesthesia machines, laboratory equipment and ambulances.
On March 27, the 200,000 doses donated by India for UN peacekeepers were despatched on a Qatar Airlines flight from Mumbai to Copenhagen, where the vaccines will be consolidated within the UN vaccine programme for onward distribution to peacekeeping missions.
Renata Dessallien, the UN resident coordinator in India, said: “The UN warmly thanks India for this generous gesture of solidarity and support, reflecting India’s strong commitment to multilateralism, to global peace, to the United Nations in particular.”
The UN under-secretary general for operational support, Atul Khare, said India’s donation will ensure that UN peacekeepers “are able to remain healthy and deliver in some of the most difficult environments in the world without relying on already stretched national health systems or ongoing COVAX efforts”.
The consignments sent to Paraguay and Zimbabwe comprised Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccine. The Hyderabad-based manufacturer announced earlier this month that the first vaccine developed in India had an efficacy of 81% in phase III clinical trials.
Indian officials had clarified last week that there is no ban on vaccine exports but the government’s primary focus will be on the domestic vaccination programme, especially after a sudden spike in the total number of Covid-19 cases and the move to open up the immunisation drive to everyone above the age of 45 from April 1.
Speaking at an event on Tuesday, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said the resurgence of Covid-19 cases had highlighted the need for an accelerated domestic vaccination drive. “Naturally, we will need to calibrate our external supplies keeping in mind our domestic production and domestic needs,” he said.
The two Indian vaccine manufacturers are expected to “rapidly expand their manufacturing capacities” to meet increasing domestic and external demand, and some vaccine candidates may conclude their trial process and become available, Shringla said.
The Quad Leaders’ Summit has proposed using Indian manufacturing capacity, financed and supported by other Quad members, to supply vaccines to the Indo-Pacific region, and this will involve creating new capacities and won’t impact India’s current vaccine rollout, he added.
India has so far provided more than 64 million doses of vaccines to 82 countries as grants, commercial sales and supplies through the COVAX facility.
However, the WHO-backed COVAX facility notified participating countries last week that deliveries of doses from the Serum Institute of India (SII) will be delayed in March and April as the Government of India battles a new wave of infections.
“COVAX and the Government of India remain in discussions to ensure some supplies are completed during March and April,” WHO said in a statement.
According to an agreement between Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and SII, which included funding to back an increase in manufacturing capacity, SII is contracted to provide COVAX the AstraZeneca vaccine for 64 lower-income countries. COVAX has so far received 28 million doses from SII and was expecting 40 million doses in March and up to 50 million doses in April.