India is holding up export licences for COVID-19 vaccines destined for poor countries due to increased domestic demand as its own cases rise, Covax facility co-leader Gavi said Thursday.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is being produced under licence in India for the Covax scheme, also led by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is meant to ensure that low-income countries can access COVID-19 jabs.
But shipments planned for the rest of March and April are now being delayed.
"Delays in granting further export licenses for Serum Institute (SII) of India-produced COVID-19 vaccine doses are due to the increased demand of COVID-19 vaccines in India," a Gavi spokesman told AFP.
"SII has pledged that, alongside supplying India, it will prioritise the Covax multilateral solution for equitable distribution.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
"Covax is in talks with the government of India with a view to ensuring deliveries as quickly as possible."
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SII is manufacturing vaccines for 64 lower-income countries via Covax, and for India's domestic vaccination campaign.
Earlier, the spokesman said that deliveries to those lower-income countries "face delays following a setback in securing export licenses for further doses of COVID-19 vaccines produced by the SII expected to be shipped in March and April".
The agreement signed between Gavi and the SII had "included funding to support an increase in manufacturing capacity", he added.
India recorded more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday for the first time since November as a new wave of infections takes hold a year after one of the world's tightest COVID-19 lockdowns was imposed.
WHO vaccine nationalism warnings
The Covax global vaccine-sharing scheme ensures that 92 of the poorest countries in the world can access vaccines, with the cost covered by donors.
The scheme aims to distribute enough doses to vaccinate up to 27 percent of their population by the end of the year.
It was supposed to deliver some 238 million doses by the end of May.
This first batch comprises some 237 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, being manufactured in India and South Korea, and another 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which requires special ultra-cold storage.
Both vaccines require two shots.
Covax has so far shipped more than 31 million doses.
Covax is co-led by Gavi, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
The WHO has repeatedly hit out at vaccine nationalism and on Monday branded the growing gap in immunisation rates between rich and poor countries "grotesque".
In total, worldwide, more than 488 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in at least 164 territories, according to an AFP count.
Some 55 percent of the doses have been administered in high-income countries accounting for 16 percent of the global population.
Just 0.1 percent have been administered in the 29 lowest-income countries, home to nine percent of the global population.
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