India puts AstraZeneca vaccine exports on hold as COVID-19 infections rise

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India has put a temporary hold on all major exports of the AstraZeneca coronavirus shot made by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine-maker, to meet domestic demand as infections rise, two sources told Reuters. The move will also affect supplies to the GAVI/WHO-backed global COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, through which 64 lower-income countries are supposed to get doses from SII, the programme’s procurement and distributing partner UNICEF told Reuters.

“We understand that deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines to lower-income economies participating in the COVAX facility will likely face delays following a setback in securing export licences for further doses of COVID-19 vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), expected to be shipped in March and April,” UNICEF said in an email.

“COVAX is in talks with the Government of India with a view to ensuring deliveries as quickly as possible.” The foreign ministry and the SII did not reply to requests for comment. COVAX has so far received 17.7 million AstraZeneca doses from the SII, of the 60.5 million doses India has shipped in total, and many countries are relying on the programme to immunise their citizens.

There have been no vaccine exports from India since Thursday, the foreign ministry’s website shows, as the country expands its own immunisation effort. “Everything else has taken a backseat, for the time being at least,” said one of the sources. Both sources had direct knowledge of the matter, but declined to be named as the discussions are not public.

“No exports, nothing till the time the India situation stabilises. The government won’t take such a big chance at the moment when so many need to be vaccinated in India.”