Mumbai/London: A delayed shipment of AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine from India is behind a cut in the U.K.’s supply starting later this month, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
Vaccine doses made by one of Astra’s manufacturing partners, the Serum Institute of India Ltd., were delayed, said the person, who didn’t want to be identified because the supply details are private. The setback has to do with the Indian government allowing the export of the doses to the U.K., according to another person with knowledge of the situation.
The Serum Institute faces pressure to prioritize India and other countries in dire need of vaccines, its chief executive officer said earlier this week. The supply crunch prompted the U.K. government to shift focus and offer remaining doses to the people most at risk of developing severe forms of Covid-19.
The Serum Institute has already contributed to the U.K. supply this quarter and is expected to deliver 10 million of the U.K.’s 100 million doses overall, the first person said.
In a letter to local health-service groups Wednesday, NHS England didn’t offer specifics, saying the shortage was the result of reductions in “national inbound vaccines.”
The shortages come after Britain announced a new milestone Wednesday — more than 25 million people have now received a first shot of the vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE or by Astra and the University of Oxford. The number equates to about half the U.K.’s adult population.
Adar Poonawalla, the Serum Institute’s chief executive, said countries were holding tightly to their supplies and restricting access to materials needed to make more. The company had been directed to prioritize India and other countries with a high burden of the disease, he said in an interview with Bloomberg that aired Wednesday.
The Serum Institute is responsible for providing more than half of the shots used so far in the WHO-backed Covax program that aims to provide equitable vaccine access across the world.
Astra declined to comment on the delay. The company said Wednesday that the “U.K. domestic supply chain is not experiencing any disruption and there is no impact on our delivery schedule.”
The U.K. government responded to the shortage by saying it’s focusing on providing second doses to the most-vulnerable people and first doses to those in priority groups who haven’t been vaccinated yet.
A spokesperson for the U.K. Department of Health and Social Care said the number of vaccinations carried out over time will vary due to supply, but the country remains on track to offer a first vaccine to over 50s by mid-April and all adults by the end of July.
Serum and the Indian government didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The news comes after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen threatened to withhold vaccine exports to the U.K. as the EU battles its own shortage challenges. – Bloomberg
Also read: India’s early Covid vaccines near expiry, questions arise on pace of vaccinations & exports