India is unlikely to resume major exports of COVID-19 vaccines until at least October as it diverts shots for domestic use, three government sources said, a longer-than-expected delay set to worsen supply shortages from the global COVAX initiative.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's biggest vaccine maker producing the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine, responded by saying that it hoped to restart deliveries to COVAX and other countries by the end of this year.
"We would like to reiterate that we have 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," SII said in a statement.
Battling the world's biggest jump in coronavirus infections, India halted vaccine exports a month ago after donating or selling more than 66 million doses. The move has left countries including Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and many in Africa scrambling for alternate supplies.
The World Health Organization, which co-leads COVAX, on Monday called on vaccine makers outside India to advance supplies to the programme given the shortfall from the South Asian country.
The sources, who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to talk to media on the subject, said India's vaccination drive will now take priority as its tally of coronavirus infections crosses 25 million and daily death toll hits a record high.
"We don't have to officially convey to all countries as we are not obligated to do," one of the sources said about the decision to hold back exports. "It was internally discussed and some countries were asked not to expect export commitments given the current Indian situation."
The source did not name the countries told about the delay.
The other two sources said the exact timing for resuming exports could change depending on how soon India is able to control the second wave of cases that has overwhelmed the health system.
India's Ministry of External Affairs, which is coordinating and overseeing all vaccine exports, did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.
Source: Reuters | May 18, 2021