The Serum Institute of India (SII) said it hopes to start delivering Covid-19 vaccine doses to COVAX and other nations only by the end of the year, and will continue to prioritize India, it said in a statement on Tuesday.
The CEO of the Institute, Adar Poonawalla, said his company has “never exported vaccines at the cost of the people of India and remain committed to do everything we can in the support of the vaccination drive in the country.”
The Serum institute is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer and has been under intense pressure to ramp up production of vaccines for India as the country suffers through a devastating wave of Covid-19.
The timeline on exporting vaccines to COVAX and individual countries is another blow for global vaccine distribution. The COVAX initiative aimed at distributing vaccines to poorer countries already faces significant shortfalls because of the crisis in India and rich countries buying up vaccine supply.
The SII is producing the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, also known as Covishield, and has pledged to manufacture and deliver 200 million doses for COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing initiative that supplies discounted or free doses to lower-income countries. However, the SII had to pause exports in March as India battled its second wave of the coronavirus infections.
The statement from the SII comes as India’s central government continues to face scrutiny for a shortage of vaccine supplies, with many state governments blaming it on the decision to export vaccines.
Acknowledging there has been “intense discussion” on the decision to export vaccines”, Poonawalla said it was “important that before we make conclusions, we consider a few important aspects of the events that have transpired.”
In his statement, Poonawalla said that in January 2021, the company had a large stockpile of vaccine doses. Coupled with a successful launch of the vaccination drive and the number of daily cases at an all-time low, “most people, including health experts believed that India was turning the tide on the pandemic.”
The statement continued that it was during this time “many other countries in the world were facing an acute crisis and were in desperate need of help. Our government extended support wherever possible during this period.”
Some background: The Indian government has exported at least 66.3 million vaccines to date to countries across the globe, out of which 19.8 million doses were given to the COVAX alliance, according to the Ministry of External Affairs.
India launched its vaccination drive on Jan. 16, first prioritizing heath care and frontline workers, followed by people above the age of 60 and those over 45 with existing health conditions.
On May 1, the drive was extended to include everyone above the age of 18. However, several states have faced challenges due a shortage of vaccine supplies.
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