THREE MONTHS after it put on hold Covid vaccine exports to combat a ferocious second wave, India said Monday that it will resume its flagship Vaccine Maitri initiative in the fourth quarter starting October to reduce supply inequity in poorer nations.
Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said India’s vaccine manufacturers are expected to produce more than 30 crore doses in October for the domestic drive — and that surplus supply will be used to fulfill the country’s commitment towards the global fight against Covid.
Mandaviya said the Government is receiving 26 crore doses from domestic manufacturers this month. “The rate of vaccination is also constantly increasing. On four days, we have administered more than one crore doses each. Today also, there is a possibility that we might cross the one-crore mark.
In October, we have a possibility of receiving more than 30 crore doses,” he said.
“Looking ahead, we expect more doses as production increases. Biological E and other companies will also arrive with their vaccines in the market. Keeping this in view, in the next quarter, after fulfilling our domestic requirements and by further increasing vaccine production, we will take forward Vaccine Maitri,” Mandaviya said.
India, the world’s leading vaccine manufacturer, had started external supplies under Vaccine Maitri on January 20 in the form of grant-in-aid and commercial sales, and through COVAX, the multilateral initiative aimed at global access to Covid vaccines led by Gavi, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO.
However, the initiative, through which 6.63 crore doses were exported, came to a halt in May, with India facing a severe shortage for its immunisation programme amid a surging second wave.
Monday’s decision comes at a time when India’s vaccination drive has surpassed 80 crore doses — effectively, 65 per cent of the estimated adult population has received the first dose and 22 per cent fully vaccinated.
The latest announcement will have significant public health implications in poorer countries that are facing a critical shortfall in access to Covid vaccines. According to a joint COVAX statement issued on September 8, on its supply forecast for 2021 and early 2022, only 240 million doses had been delivered to 139 countries in six months.
Describing the current global access to vaccines as “unacceptable”, the statement attributed the reduction in supplies to “export restrictions, particularly with respect to uncertainty around the resumption of exports from the Serum Institute of India (SII), a key COVAX supplier”.
The other reasons that resulted in a reduction in global supplies are scale-up challenges at manufacturing sites of Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, and pending regulatory approvals for Novavax.
The first phase of Vaccine Maitri focussed on the immediate neighbourhood: Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, as also Mauritius and Seychelles. Through the initiative, vaccines were supplied to 95 nations across geographies, including the smaller and more vulnerable nations in Africa, and conflict-hit regions like Syria.