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How India flipped its vaccine fortunes By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO A female receives COVAXIN coronavirus (COVID-19), vaccine from Bharat Biotech during an India vaccination drive, which took place in New Delhi on August 31, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

By Krishna N. Das

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Only months ago, India ran so short of COVID-19 vaccines that computer experts wrote software code to help people snag scarce immunisation slots and the then health minister had to constantly battle opposition criticism on social media.

Mansukh Mansukh Mandaviya is a well-known, but still active politician who is able to communicate with vaccine producers almost every day and resolves their issues promptly.

The demand for vaccines has increased.

Officials from the government say that they can fully immunize almost all people by December. This gives them the confidence to announce an October quarter gradual restart in vaccine exports. It is the first announcement since April, when hospitals were overwhelmed again by a second wave of infections.

The sputtering COVAX global vaccine-sharing program, which has fallen behind in its commitment to supply 2 billion doses per year due to India’s restrictions on exports and problems supplying it with vaccines, will benefit from this.

GAVI (the GAVI vaccine alliance) sponsors this programme, as well UNICEF, World Health Organization, and CEPI. This month, COVAX saw its supply target cut by almost 30% to 1.425 million doses.

A spokesperson for GAVI told Reuters that the announcement of India’s exports on Monday could have a huge positive effect on India’s health security as well as global.

Our priority is to talk with Serum Institute of India, the Indian government and the Serum Institute of India to learn about the implications of this on our supply chain.

It is mainly due to the SII that is producing more AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shots than was projected by the government.

A government source declined to say if SII would provide 200 million doses (branded Covishield) of vaccine to the government in this month’s production. That compares with 150 million monthly deliveries the previous month.


The government said in May that Covishield output could reach 750 million doses between August and December, but the actual output could be more than 900 million, said two other sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

According to one source, the company “added new lines, received quick approvals for diverting a line that was meant for other vaccines.”

The source said that the company now employs five production lines to make Covishield, compared with two in April. According to the source, SII could produce as many as 215,000,000 doses per month.

SII and the health ministry did not respond immediately to our request for comment.

Bharat Biotech was the Indian producer of Covaxin. It told Reuters that India’s first shot developed domestically would almost triple in monthly production by year end.

SII also received funding and diplomatic help from the government that ensured supplies of raw material from the United States following a plea on social media and elsewhere.

India has been the country with the highest number of cases of infection in the world, after the United States. This allowed it to increase its vaccine campaign. It gave at least one dose of vaccination to 65% of the 944 million people and 22% of the required doses.

Mandaviya said Monday to reporters that the country’s overall vaccine production will exceed one billion in October-December. That would more than suffice to satisfy domestic demand.

India is the world’s biggest vaccine maker and its companies including SII, Bharat Biotech and Biological E, which does bottling work for Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:)’s COVID-19 shot, have trebled their capacity to make nearly 3 billion doses a year, much of which could be available for overseas sale from next year.

Mandaviya added that “we will continue producing more to fulfill our needs as well as export.”