India slows down vaccine supply to other countries as Covid intensifies

New Delhi, Mar 26 (efe-epa).- India, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, has slowed down the global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines amid a massive surge in cases due to the second wave of the pandemic in the country, triggering concerns among other countries and international bodies.

The affected parties include the World Health Organization’s global distribution program COVAX – in which India’s participation is essential – as it aims to ensure equitable access to coronavirus vaccines across the world.

“Deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines to lower-income economies participating in the COVAX Facility will likely face delays following a setback in securing export licenses” in India, Unicef – member of the vaccine coalition – told EFE on Friday.

The affected consignments involve doses of Covishield produced by the Serum Institute of India – the largest vaccine manufacturer of the world – which have to be sent between March and April.

The agreement between the global alliance for vaccine and immunization (GAVI), leader of the COVAX alliance, and the Serum Institute, included funding to back the manufacturing capacity of 1 billion doses, destined for 64 low-income countries.

“COVAX is in talks with the Government of India with a view to ensuring deliveries as quickly as possible,” Unicef said in a written statement.

According to WHO data, so far COVAX has supplied 28 million doses of Covishield and expects to receive another 40 million doses in March and up to 50 million doses in April.

Although the Indian government has not officially confirmed a delay in the global distribution of vaccines, including its diplomatic outreach to supply subsidized and free vaccines to allies, authorities have insisted that the vaccine shipping will depend on domestic needs.

“The House should be aware that the supply of vaccines abroad is based on the assessment of adequate availability at home,” Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar told the parliament last week.

Apart from participating in the COVAX initiative, India had also launched a campaign to provide low-cost or free vaccines to countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

On Mar. 18, Nepal suspended its vaccination campaign – kicked off on Jan. 27 with a million Covishield doses donated by India – pending supplies of more doses by suppliers, with a large part of the shipments expected from India.

“We have also drawn the attention of the WHO about Nepal’s immediate vaccine needs,” Nepali health ministry spokesperson Samir Kumar Adhikari told EFE.

Only around half of the two million vaccine doses expected to be delivered by the Serum Institute have been received by Kathmandu so far.

Meanwhile the Sri Lankan government has began efforts to buy Russian vaccine Sputnik after delays in the supply of AstraZeneca’s Covishield from India.

“We are told that the distribution of vaccines were stopped because of the increase of (Covid-19) cases in India. They are giving the priority to their own country,” Sri Lankan minister for Covid prevention, Sudarshani Fernandopulle, told EFE.

Sri Lanka had ordered around 10 million vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India, apart from expecting a separate consignment from COVAX, which could also be delayed.

Similarly, Bangladesh, which had signed an agreement with the India-based Institute for 30 million Covishield doses, has also confirmed uncertainty over the delivery timeline.

The possible delay in distribution comes even as India is facing a significant surge in the number of daily Covid infections that touched almost 60,000 on Friday, the worst figures since October in the country of 1.35 billion people.

The daily caseload is inching towards record numbers witnessed during the peak of the pandemic in September, when the country was registering nearly 100,000 daily cases, and pressure has mounted on authorities to accelerate the vaccination drive.

India had administered more than 55.5 million vaccine doses by Friday. EFE-EPA

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