India to resume export of Covid vaccines from October
India will resume export of surplus coronavirus vaccines, prioritising dispatches to the global vaccine sharing initiative Covax and other countries to “fulfil its commitment towards the world” from the quarter beginning in October, Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya announced on Monday.
India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, stopped exports in April this year to accelerate the domestic inoculation drive at a time the second wave of Covid-19 infections exploded in the country.
The exports will be facilitated under the government’s “Vaccine Maitri” initiative, through which India sent out a little over 66 million doses as grants or part of commercial commitments, including to Covax.
“India will be resuming export of vaccines under Vaccine Maitri in order to fulfil the commitment of India towards COVAX, and other countries, in line with our motto Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (sanskrit for “the world is one family”). The surplus supply of vaccines that we expect to produce in the last quarter will be used to fulfil our commitment towards the world for the collective fight against Covid-19,” Mandaviya said at a briefing in New Delhi.
Monday’s announcement is timely. This week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Washington, where vaccines are likely to be discussed at a summit of the leaders of the Quad countries -- the United States, India, Japan and Australia.
There have also been calls to restart exports as supply constraints have been minimised. Since April, monthly vaccine output in India has more than doubled and is set to quadruple to over 300 million doses by October, Mandaviya said.
In September, 235 million shots -- 200 million of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and the remaining of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin -- will be available, government officials said last week. Another 10 million may be in the offing with the Zydus Cadila vaccine expected by the end of this month or early October, according to a person aware of the matter.
The overall production is expected to hit 1 billion doses by the end of 2021, the minister said, adding that only the excess supplies will be exported.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, called Covishield, forms the backbone of India’s vaccination drive.
It is also one of the pillars of Covax -- a partnership of vaccine developers and countries set up by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), and World Health Organization.
Early into the pandemic, Covax bet on Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), which manufactures Covishield in India, for a major chunk of vaccine supplies. Gavi provided an initial $150 million funding to SII as part to an agreement to guarantee half of the company’s production for Covax.
The April move to halt exports, which were never officially banned by the government, severely hit Covax donations and exacerbated vaccine inequities between the richer global north and poorer global south. According to Our World in Data, just 1.9% of the population in low-income countries has received at least one dose. In high-income countries, this proportion is 66.5%.
Data by the United Nations till September 15 shows around 113 million shots have been donated to Covax -- of which US-made Moderna jab makes up 45%, and AstraZeneca shot 29%. The United States has donated the most vaccines under the facility, followed by Japan and the UK.
India’s vaccination drive, marred by supply issues in the first few months, has picked up pace in recent weeks. On average, the country is inoculating around 7.5 million people a day for the last two weeks. The government aims to vaccinate all of its adult population of around 944 million by December, and has administered at least one shot to 64% of them.
Mandaviya on Monday also appreciated the leaps made by Indian scientists in vaccine research and development.
“Earlier, vaccines were produced in other countries first and India would get vaccine doses 5-10 years later. This time, India produced the vaccine against Covid-19 around the same time when other countries produced it. Our rate of vaccination is also increasing…” said Mandaviya.