India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, wants to resume exports of coronavirus doses but cannot do so until its domestic needs are met, the head of the country’s Covid-19 task force said on Friday.
Once our immediate need to vaccinate a significant proportion of the Indian population is met and vaccine stocks are visible from multiple sources, we would like to play the role of serving others and providing them with vaccines, said Dr. Vinod K. Paul said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Paul defended the Indian government’s move to restrict vaccine exports in April while fighting a fierce surge in infections.
He noted that India had given away a substantial amount of vaccines earlier in the year when it launched its own immunization campaign. So that has to be respected and it has to be recognized, as not many nations have, he said.
As of January, India began exporting vaccines to more than 90 countries. But exports came to a halt when infections soared in India, leaving many developing countries without adequate supplies and affecting millions of people.
While critics accused India of mismanaging its slow vaccination efforts at home, countries such as Nepal and Bangladesh began to look to China to fill their vaccine gaps.
The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, also abandoned its role as the main supplier of COVAX, the UN-backed project to supply vaccines to poor regions of the world. Last month, he said he may not be able to start dosing until the end of this year, a significant blow to global efforts to immunize people against the coronavirus.
Paul said the resumption of exports is still on the radar. But when asked when the restrictions would be lifted, he replied: It’s not fair to set a date at this time.
Confirmed coronavirus cases in India have exceeded 29 million, while deaths have exceeded 380,000. Experts believe that both numbers are well below those counted.
Media reports have cast doubt on the government’s data collection, with crematoriums and death counts across the state showing different figures. Paul said the government has no reason to hide deaths or cases.
New cases are finally declining after surpassing 400,000 a day in May, a world record. But authorities are bracing for another possible wave of infection and are focusing on increasing vaccination rates.
Currently, less than 5% of India’s population is fully immunized, and experts warn that vaccination rates must increase significantly to protect a considerable part of the population before the end of the year.
The hope is that India will see a rapid increase in vaccines in the coming months. Last month, Paul told reporters that around 2 billion doses could be available by December under a roadmap that depends on India’s two main suppliers, Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech, increasing production and other. Five possible vaccines will be available in the coming months.
But experts and critics noted that both the Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech have struggled to push manufacturing, and that the other potential vaccines are still undergoing trials without a clear date of when they would be available, raising questions about whether the estimate of Paul was realistic.
Paul acknowledged Friday that it was an optimistic projection. But he said it was based on estimates from the manufacturers themselves and that the figure showed the potential exists.
We are also mindful of the fact that there are steps to take, he said, admitting that vaccine manufacturers may face regulatory hurdles or problems sourcing raw materials.
He said India can expect to see at least 740 million doses between August and December. But this includes 300 million of a vaccine that is still being tested late and not yet available. More orders will be placed in the future, he added.
While much of India’s vast rural areas of interior were largely spared from COVID-19 last year, that has not been the case during the recent surge. Access to health care is much more limited in the countryside, raising fears that the virus could ravage small towns and villages incessantly.
In the future, the focus will have to shift to these small towns and villages, Paul said.
The extension of our preparation will be much more inland, towards rural areas, he said.
(Only the headline and image for this report may have been edited by Business Standard staff; other content is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)