India to focus on domestic immunisation, no expansion of vaccine exports for now
There will be no ban on exports, though supplies to other countries will be made only after meeting domestic needs, people familiar with developments said
India will focus on its domestic vaccination programme following a spike in Covid-19 cases and the planned expansion of the immunisation drive, and there will be no expansion of vaccine exports, people familiar with developments said on Wednesday.
The people said on condition of anonymity that there will be no ban on exports, though supplies to other countries will be made only after meeting domestic needs. They also said future exports are linked to the ramping up of domestic production capacities.
“We have helped countries around the world with commercial supplies and grants of vaccines and we will continue to do so,” said one of the people cited above. The people said all commercial deals and export commitments will be honoured by the country.
The people said the government’s priority will be the vaccination of the country’s population. As the country’s vaccine production capacity increases and emergency use authorisations are granted for more vaccines, the government will review the situation related to exports after about two months, the people said.
Several factors are behind the government’s move to slow down vaccine exports, including a need to ramp up the domestic vaccination programme following an increase in the total active caseload after it had touched its lowest mark in mid-February, and the decision to open up the immunisation drive to everyone above the age of 45 from April 1.
The emergence of a double mutation in the Sars-CoV-2 virus in Maharashtra has added to the concerns related to the rise in Covid-19 cases in recent days. With 11.7 million cases, India has reported the highest number of Coronavirus infections after the US and Brazil.
Vaccine manufacturers too have indicated that the current focus is on meeting domestic needs.
Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla had tweeted on February 21: “Dear countries & governments, as you await #COVISHIELD supplies, I humbly request you to please be patient, @SerumInstIndia has been directed to prioritise the huge needs of India and along with that balance the needs of the rest of the world. We are trying our best.”
India has so far supplied more than 60 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, mostly Covishield, to 76 countries. This includes 8.5 million doses provided as grants and commercial supplies of 34 million doses. However, according to data maintained on the external affairs ministry’s website, the last shipments went out almost a week ago to Namibia and Bolivia on March 18.
The move will also affect supplies to the WHO-backed COVAX facility through which more than 180 countries are expected to get doses. COVAX has so far received 17.7 million doses of Covishield from India.
Besides providing 200 million doses to the COVAX facility this year, India is also expected to manufacture one billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines with US and Japanese funding for the new Quad Vaccine Partnership by the end of 2022.
So far, more than 51 million doses have been administered across India, of which 47 million were Covishield doses and the rest were COVAXIN. The government has asked SII to supply 141 million doses.
SII, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, plans to boost production of the AstraZeneca vaccine to 100 million doses a month by April, up from the current level of 70 million.
On Tuesday, SII sought permission from Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan to supply five million doses of Covishield to the UK this week, saying the move wouldn’t affect the domestic vaccination programme. The firm cited its license agreement with AstraZeneca for transfer of technology for manufacturing Covishield, which states SII must treat AstraZeneca as a priority customer.