The World Health Organization’s COVAX suffered another setback as India has decided not to share COVID-19 vaccines until all the adults in the country have been immunized. In the first half of the year, India had been hit by a brutal second wave of COVID-19 infections, prompting the government to hold all exports of COVID vaccines.
Adar Poonawalla, Serum Institute of India, had said the SII would continue to scale up vaccine manufacturing and prioritize India. However, he hoped to restart delivering doses to COVAX and other countries by the 2021-end. But a senior government official told Economic Times that as per recent discussions held by the government, India will continue to pull back supplies to COVAX till all its adults are vaccinated.
Another official told Hindustan Times that the question of resuming COVID vaccine exports cropped up in government meetings. “But with the fear of a third wave of coronavirus looming and a significant at-risk population, it makes sense to cover a substantial portion of the country’s population first before thinking of resuming exports.”
Rajesh Bhushan, Union Secretary for Health and Family Welfare, clarified that there was no ban on vaccine exports as neither the health ministry, commerce and industry minister, department of promotion of industry and internal trade, nor the directorate general of foreign trade has issued any formal orders asking to bar the export of COVID-19 vaccines. “There has been no trade embargo in place, however, each country functions with the aim to ensure that it keeps its population, economy and social system safe. Therefore, public health response with respect to COVID-19 is also governed by these factors. Once these targets are met we will look into what is the best time to share our vaccine doses with the other countries.”
Official data shows that more than half of India’s eligible population, that is about 473 million people, have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. But only about 17% of eligible adults have been fully vaccinated since the beginning of the vaccination drive in January. Moreover, India administered more than 180 million doses in August, which was more than all the Group of Seven (G7) countries put together.