Paraguay to cancel contract with Bharat Biotech for Covaxin over quality issues

ByRezaul H Laskar & Rhythma Kaul, New Delhi
Jun 07, 2022 04:56 PM IST

The contract was put together with the help of Taiwan, which has close ties with Paraguay, as part of efforts last year to ensure that the South American country did not turn to China for Covid-19 vaccines

Paraguay has initiated the process for cancelling a contract with Bharat Biotech for Covaxin vaccines over quality control issues, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

The development was confirmed by Paraguay’s health minister Julio Borba, who told the ABC news channel on June 1 that the government is in the process of cancelling the vaccine purchase agreement with the Indian firm for the acquisition of one million Covaxin vaccines. (HT Photo)
The development was confirmed by Paraguay’s health minister Julio Borba, who told the ABC news channel on June 1 that the government is in the process of cancelling the vaccine purchase agreement with the Indian firm for the acquisition of one million Covaxin vaccines. (HT Photo)

The contract was put together with the help of Taiwan, which has close ties with Paraguay, as part of efforts last year to ensure that the South American country did not turn to China for Covid-19 vaccines.

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The development was confirmed by Paraguay’s health minister Julio Borba, who told the ABC news channel on June 1 that the government is in the process of cancelling the vaccine purchase agreement with the Indian firm for the acquisition of one million Covaxin vaccines.

“It is there (the agreement), but it is also in the process of closing. We had problems and we decided to close the contract with them, it is in the process of being closed,” he said, according to a report in Spanish on the channel’s website.

Bharat Biotech did not respond to requests for a comment but pointed to a statement released on April 1 when it said it was slowing production after having “completed supply obligations”.

People familiar with the matter in the company, who asked not to be named, said all exports of the vaccine had been stopped. “No Covaxin vaccine supplies are being exported currently. Any pending orders have been automatically cancelled,” said the person, requesting anonymity.

The April 1 statement came after the World Health Organization (WHO) found certain deficiencies in good manufacturing practices (GMP) because of which the United Nations’ health body temporarily suspended supplies of Covaxin under its Covax facility for equitable distribution of vaccines among low and middle income countries.

The WHO suspension of the clearance was one among several controversies dogging the vaccine. Last year, Brazil cancelled a $324 million contract for the jabs over accusations of graft and irregularities.

Paraguay made an advance payment for vaccines, and Borba said: “I do not remember the amount paid, but an advance was given and vaccines were received for that amount.”

Borba didn’t specify any reason for the cancellation of the agreement or give other details.

People familiar with the matter said authorities in Paraguay had rejected the Covaxin vaccines over quality control issues.

One of the people cited above said Bharat Biotech reportedly did not include temperature sensors with the vaccines during shipping, and authorities in Paraguay concluded the vaccines could not be used.

The development has also resulted in embarrassment in diplomatic circles, especially in view of the efforts made to wean Paraguay away from Chinese-made vaccines.

Borba was quoted by ABC as saying that other contracts signed by Paraguay’s health ministry for purchasing vaccines and medical supplies to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic are still in force and proceeding “without major setbacks”.

Borba said that following the cancellation of a contract with Sinopharm last year, the Chinese firm had returned an advance payment. “That money was returned,” he said.

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