Covax vaccines for poor countries delayed by India: Gavi

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is being produced under licence in India for the Covax scheme, also led by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is meant to ensure that low-income countries can access COVID-19 jabs.

A medical worker holds a vial of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 at a vaccination hub outside Rome's Termini railway station on 24 March 2021. Picture: ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP

GENEVA, Switzerland - India is holding up export licences for COVID-19 vaccines destined for poor countries due to increased domestic demand as its own cases rise, Covax facility co-leader Gavi said on Thursday.

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is being produced under licence in India for the Covax scheme, also led by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is meant to ensure that low-income countries can access COVID-19 jabs.

But shipments planned for the rest of March and April are now being delayed.

"Delays in granting further export licenses for Serum Institute (SII) of India-produced COVID-19 vaccine doses are due to the increased demand of COVID-19 vaccines in India," a Gavi spokesman told AFP.

"SII has pledged that, alongside supplying India, it will prioritise the Covax multilateral solution for equitable distribution.

"Covax is in talks with the government of India with a view to ensuring deliveries as quickly as possible."

SII is manufacturing vaccines for 64 lower-income countries via Covax, and for India's domestic vaccination campaign.

Earlier, the spokesman said that deliveries to those lower-income countries "face delays following a setback in securing export licenses for further doses of COVID-19 vaccines produced by the SII expected to be shipped in March and April".

The agreement signed between Gavi and the SII had "included funding to support an increase in manufacturing capacity", he added.

India recorded more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday for the first time since November as a new wave of infections takes hold a year after one of the world's tightest COVID-19 lockdowns was imposed.

WHO VACCINES NATIONALISM WARNINGS

The Covax global vaccine-sharing scheme ensures that 92 of the poorest countries in the world can access vaccines, with the cost covered by donors.

The scheme aims to distribute enough doses to vaccinate up to 27 percent of their population by the end of the year.

It was supposed to deliver some 238 million doses by the end of May.

This first batch comprises some 237 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, being manufactured in India and South Korea, and another 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which requires special ultra-cold storage.

Both vaccines require two shots.

Covax has so far shipped more than 31 million doses.

Covax is co-led by Gavi, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

The WHO has repeatedly hit out at vaccine nationalism and on Monday branded the growing gap in immunisation rates between rich and poor countries "grotesque".

In total, worldwide, more than 488 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in at least 164 territories, according to an AFP count.

Some 55 percent of the doses have been administered in high-income countries accounting for 16 percent of the global population.

Just 0.1 percent have been administered in the 29 lowest-income countries, home to nine percent of the global population.

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