India, world’s top vaccine maker, will restart COVID jab exports to poor countries on Covax program

September 20, 2021, 2:59 PM UTC

India will restart exports of COVID-19 vaccines for the World Health Organization’s Covax initiative from the quarter beginning Oct. 1, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya says, days after the government pledged to first focus on meeting local requirements.

The country will also begin shipments as part of its vaccine donation program, the federal minister told reporters Monday. He did not give any details.

Home to the world’s largest vaccine-manufacturing industry, it was expected that India would be a significant supplier to the equitable vaccine initiative on which most of the world’s poor countries are reliant. But the government halted exports in April after the delta virus variant began sweeping through its major cities making it the world’s second-worst hit by COVID-19

“With more production, we will help the world under the ‘Vaccine Friendship’ program and fulfill the commitment of India towards Covax,” Mandaviya said.

The country had been shipping doses to poorer nations as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-touted vaccine diplomacy push until earlier this year. 

Last week a senior WHO official said the international agency was in talks with the Indian government to resume supplies to Covax.

India’s export ban hurt Covax’s push to speedily inoculate large swathes of the world and the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is also pushing New Delhi to open up exports to low income countries, according to a news report.

Last month the head of a leading government advisory panel had indicated that India would only look at resuming exports in 2022 after it had reached its own goal of vaccinating its adult population by year-end. The country has so far fully vaccinated just 14.5% of its nearly 1.4 billion people, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

The country expects to have at least six domestically-manufactured shots by the end of 2021, according to N.K. Arora, chairman of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization.

In October alone, the country expects to have some 300 million vaccine doses in hand, the minister said.

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