COVID-19 vaccine exports will commence in the weeks to come, the Government has confirmed. This is despite earlier confusion that the country’s largest vaccine manufacturer was not authorised to do so.
India is gearing up for a mass vaccination campaign expected to begin next week. This follows emergency use authorisation for two vaccine candidates: one developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca and one developed by domestic manufacturer Bharat Biotech. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the vaccination programme will be the world’s largest.
The mammoth task of vaccinating 1.3 billion people against the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19 carries a US$7 billion price-tag and is to be rolled out in stages. Frontline workers and those at heightened risk such as the elderly and those with comorbidities are to be prioritised in the first stage. India aims to vaccinate 300 million people by August 2021.
There has been some confusion regarding COVID-19 vaccine exports, however. Earlier reports suggested that the emergency use authorisation given to the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine being manufactured in India by the Serum Institute of India (SII) was on the condition that doses not be sent abroad for “several months.” This was according to SII’s chief executive officer Adar Poonawalla, per media reports. Poonawalla has since taken to Twitter, sharing a joint statement of the SII and Bharat Biotech which reads, in part
“Vaccines are a global public health good and they have the power to accelerate the return to economic normalcy at the earliest…We are fully aware of the importance of vaccines for people and countries alike, we hereby communicate our joint pledge to provide global access to COVID-19 vaccines.”
In his tweet, Poonawalla added “this should clarify any miscommunication. We are all united in the fight against this pandemic.”
“The Union government hasn’t banned the export of any one of the COVID vaccines,” asserted Rajesh Bhushan, a senior official in the Union Health Ministry. “That is something that should be absolutely clear.”
India has long been anticipated to be at the forefront of the global vaccination campaign against COVID-19. It will not shy away from its responsibilities, an anonymous official told BBC News. “Within a fortnight of the rollout of the vaccines we will allow exports to some of our South Asian neighbours,” they said. “Some of these exports will be paid by us as gifts, and the others will be supplied at roughly the same price the government will be buying the vaccines at.
“India is completely conscious of its commitments to neighbours and the rest of the world as the world’s biggest vaccine maker.”
Indeed, India is regarded as the pharmacy of the world by many, responsible for sixty percent of vaccine production. Such a responsibility assumes elevated importance in the context of this pandemic. As such, the news regarding COVID-19 exports will no doubt be encouraging for many nations as they seek to curb the COVID-19 menace.