The world’s largest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India has resumed exports of coronavirus vaccines to COVAX the partnership that is distributing vaccines to developing countries. The resumption of exports comes at a critical time when a new variant found in South Africa is causing concern around the world.
India suspended exports of vaccines in March this year following a severe surge in infections during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as it used its stocks to ramp up its domestic inoculation program.
The first shipments went out Friday.
“This will go a long way in restoring vaccine supply equality in the world,” Serum Institute chief executive Adar Poonawalla said on Twitter.
The company said in a press statement that said that it expects the supply of vaccines to COVAX to increase substantially in early 2022. The Serum Institute of India was expected to be one of the main suppliers to the vaccine sharing facility which was created to ensure global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines after the outbreak of the pandemic.
The Serum Institute linked the resumption of exports to surpassing its target of producing 1 billion doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of this year – it has produced 1.25 billion doses so far.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which leads the COVAX program along with the World Health Organization, called the restart of exports from India an important development “as it enters its busiest period yet for shipping vaccines to participating economies.”
The export curbs by India were a huge setback to efforts by COVAX, which had been relying on supplies of the affordable and easy to store AstraZeneca vaccine from India’s Serum Institute to distribute to low-income countries. The vaccine is called Covishield in India.
“While COVAX’s portfolio is now much more diversified than it was earlier this year when we received our first SII deliveries, COVISHIELD remains an important product which has the potential to help us protect hundreds of millions of people in the months ahead,” according to Seth Berkley, chief executive of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.
India has allowed exports to resume as its vaccination program makes substantial progress and vaccine supplies improve – about 80% of the country has received one dose and about 40% is fully vaccinated. Cases of coronavirus have also reduced dramatically – on Friday, India reported about 9,000 cases.
However, a new variant found in South Africa, dubbed omicron, is causing widespread concern and has prompted experts in India to caution against complacency. Designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organization, omicron has already been found in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong and has prompted several countries, including the United States and Britain to impose travel curbs.
India has said it is scaling up screening of passengers from overseas. At a meeting held Saturday to review the pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked officials to review plans to ease international travel restrictions.
“In light of the new variant, we remain vigilant with a focus on containment and ensuring increased second dose coverage,” he tweeted.