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.
Battling the world’s biggest jump in COVID-19 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 WHO, a coleader of COVAX, on Monday called on vaccine makers outside India to advance supplies to the program given the shortfall from the South Asian country.
The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to media on the subject, said India’s vaccination drive would now take priority as its tally of novel 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.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs, which is coordinating and overseeing all vaccine exports, did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.
A spokesman for Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, said the focus for now is on supplying vaccines to India.
It had previously expected shipments to restart next month.
Asked about the October timeline, COVAX colead GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance said at least 140 million doses it had expected from the Serum Institute by the end of this month would now remain in India.
“As India confronts a truly dreadful wave of the pandemic, Indian vaccine production, including the 140 million vaccine doses initially destined for COVAX, have been committed to protecting its own citizens,” a GAVI spokeswoman said in an e-mail.
“We offer the government of India our full support in their effort to bring the virus under control and stand ready to help in any way we can,” she said.
COVAX has a deal with the Serum Institute to deliver 1.1 billion doses of either the AstraZeneca or Novavax shots.
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