Resumption of Covid-19 vaccine export ‘very much on radar’, says govt


India, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, is looking to resume exports of Covid-19 doses after meeting domestic needs, the government has said.

“Once our immediate need of vaccinating a significant proportion of Indian people is achieved and vaccine stockpiles are visible from multiple sources, we would then like to provide vaccines to others,” said VK Paul, Niti Aayog member (health), in an interview with The Associated Press.

Paul said that a resumption of exports is still “very much on the radar”. But he did not inform of a timeline for the same.

Why did India stop exporting vaccines?

The country had begun sending doses to more than 90 nations from January. However, the exports came to a halt when the second wave of coronavirus set in India and demand for vaccines surged.

This had left many developing countries in a lurch who were looking at India for meeting their requirements.

Defending the central government’s decision, Paul said that India had given away a “substantial” amount of vaccines at the start of the year as it launched its own immunization drive.

“So that has to be respected and has to be recognized, as not many nations have done that,” he said.

When are exports expected to restart?

A Reuters report last month claimed that India is unlikely to resume major exports of vaccines until at least October as it diverts shots for domestic use.

This longer-than-expected delay is set to worsen supply shortages from the global World Health Organisation-backed Covax initiative.

Local vaccine manufacturer Serum Institute of India had also stated that hopes to resume delivering its vaccines to Covax facility and other countries by the end of the year.

“We continue to scale up manufacturing and prioritize India. We also hope to start delivering to Covax and other countries by the end of the year,” the company said in a statement.

Serum Institute said that it has been in intense discussions with the Indian government about the export of vaccines and said that it will not export vaccines at the cost of the people of India.

India’s local demands

Paul’s statements in the interview come in the backdrop of the central government asserting last month that India will have about 200 crore doses of vaccines by the end of the year “enough to vaccinate the entire population”.

The government’s plans are based on ramping up production of the two domestic suppliers — SII and Bharat Biotech — and five other potential vaccines being made available in the coming months.

However, critics have pointed out that both SII and Bharat Biotech are struggling to boost manufacturing and the other vaccine candidates are still undergoing trials.

On this, Paul said that although it was an “optimistic” projection, it’s based on estimated by the manufacturers themselves and that the figure showed “there is the potential.

“We are also mindful of the fact that there are steps to be met,” he said, acknowledging the hurdles that manufacturers might face in procuring raw material and other processes.

He said India can expect to see at least 740 million doses between August and December. But this includes 300 million of a vaccine that is still in late testing and not yet available. More orders will be placed in the future, he added.

Currently, less than 5% of India’s people are fully inoculated against Covid-19.

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