India to focus on domestic immunisation, no expansion of vaccine exports for now

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India will focus on the domestic vaccination programme following a spike in Covid-19 cases and the planned expansion of the immunisation drive, and there will be no expansion of vaccine exports, people familiar with developments said on Wednesday.

The people said on condition of anonymity that there will be no ban on exports, though supplies to other countries will be made after meeting domestic needs. They also said exports are linked to the ramping up of domestic production capacities.

“We have helped countries around the world with commercial supplies and grants of vaccines and we will continue to do so,” said one of the people cited above.

Several factors are behind the government’s move to slow down vaccine exports, including a need to ramp up the domestic vaccination programme following an increase in the total active caseload after it touched its lowest mark in mid-February, and the decision to open up the immunisation programme to everyone above the age of 45 from April 1.

The people said the government’s priority will be the vaccination of the country’s population. As the country’s vaccine production capacity increases and emergency use authorisations are granted for more vaccines, the government will review the situation related to exports after about two months, the people said.

The people said all commercial deals and export commitments will be honoured by the country.

The emergence of a double mutation in the Sars-CoV-2 virus in Maharashtra has added to the concerns related to the rise in Covid-19 cases in recent days.

Vaccine manufacturers too have indicated that the current focus is on meeting domestic needs.

Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla had tweeted on February 21: “Dear countries & governments, as you await #COVISHIELD supplies, I humbly request you to please be patient, @SerumInstIndia has been directed to prioritise the huge needs of India and along with that balance the needs of the rest of the world. We are trying our best.”

Serum Institute, which is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, plans to ramp up production of the AstraZeneca vaccine to 100 million doses a month by April.

India has so far supplied more than 60 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, mostly Covishield, to 76 countries. This includes 8.5 million doses provided as grants and commercial supplies of 34 million doses.

Besides providing 200 million doses to the COVAX facility this year, India is also expected to manufacture one billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines with US and Japanese funding for the new Quad Vaccine Partnership by the end of 2022.

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