New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has asked the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech to prioritise India for Covid-19 vaccine supplies over exports, ThePrint has learnt.
“We have asked vaccine makers to prioritise supplies of Covid-19 vaccines in India… It should not be confused with an export ban as it’s a temporary move,” a senior official from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare told ThePrint.
“We are expanding the vaccination drive for which we need more vaccines for domestic consumption. It’s not just SII, but a similar directive has been given to Bharat Biotech as well,” he added.
“…we are also looking at augmenting the manufacturing capacity and considering the emergency approval proposals of other vaccines too. Once India manages to procure all the committed doses, the companies will be permitted to move ahead with their commercial commitments,” the official said.
Another top official at the health ministry said the companies have “not been asked to take prior permissions from the government for exports”, but they need to consult the foreign ministry beforehand.
“Following the Indian government’s directive, SII has informed Morocco, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom about the expected delays in the shipment of their orders,” he said.
ThePrint reached spokespersons of SII and Bharat Biotech through email and text messages for a comment on the matter, but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
India recorded more than 50,000 Covid cases in the last 24 hours, according to data released by the health ministry Thursday.
The increase in the number of Covid infections apart from the detection of the new “double mutant variant” of SARS-CoV-2 are the primary reasons behind the government’s plans to escalate the vaccination drive in the country. It has also announced to begin inoculation of all people aged above 45 years from 1 April.
Vaccine exports to other countries
According to data maintained by the Ministry of External Affairs, India last exported vaccines to Bolivia on 18 March.
Countries such as Bhutan and Maldives have got the vaccines twice from India as a grant. Other countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar and Mauritius also received it twice but both as grants as well as commercially.
Government data, till 21 March, shows India has supplied around 6 crore vaccines to 76 countries in the form of grants, commercial sales by the manufacturers, and through GAVI’s Covax facility. GAVI is a vaccine alliance — a public–private global health partnership with the goal of increasing access to immunisation in poor countries.
While 81 lakh supplies have been made under grants, 3 crore supplies have been sent commercially, while 1.77 crores have been sent through Covax.
The shipments include supplies to Morocco, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom.
India, until 25 March, has administered 5.31 crore vaccine doses.
SII has supplied 6.5 crore doses to the Indian government, which has further ordered 10 crore doses of Covishield and 2 crore doses of Covaxin.
The first 1 crore doses of Covishield are expected to start coming in from 27 March in tranches of 20 lakh doses per day.
India will complete domestic procurement first
According to government sources, “orders for external supplies of the vaccines have been put on hold”.
“These are the commercial shipments. The majority of the countries have received the first tranche of their orders either through commercial arrangement, Covax or through grants,” said a source.
“While India is open to receiving requests from other countries for vaccines, it will consider all the requests only after completing the domestic procurement. And wherever, we are getting the orders, we have been telling them to wait for a while.”
The government has decided this owing to the rising number of cases in India, the source added.
(Edited by Debalina Dey)
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