India, one of the world’s largest producers of coronavirus vaccines, has temporarily suspended all exports of AstraZeneca vaccines due to the need to prioritize its own needs.
The manufacturer has supplied millions of vaccines containing AstraZeneca jab to the Covax scheme for low- and middle-income countries worldwide.
Why does export stop?
India has a major challenge to inoculate its own population.
By the end of March, approximately 65 million doses had been administered nationwide, expanding the program to all people over the age of 45.
Two Indian vaccine producers have expressed concern about their ability to meet production targets.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), which produces the Novavax and AstraZeneca vaccines, the largest of these, warns of a shortage of raw materials that affect production.
Its CEO, Adar Poonawalla, This is believed to be due to a U.S. export ban on certain items required to manufacture vaccines., Special bags and filters.
The company also said it faces difficulties in importing cell culture media, disposable tubes and specialty chemicals from the United States.
“Sharing these … raw materials will be a significant limiting factor. No one has ever been able to deal with this,” said Punawara.
The SII has sent a letter to the Government of India calling for intervention to ensure uninterrupted production and supply of vaccines around the world.
Another Indian manufacturer producing, Biological E Johnson & Johnson VaccineAlso raised concerns about shortages that could affect vaccine production.
The company’s CEO, Mahima Datla, recently became a U.S. supplier. “I’m reluctant to promise that they will stick to their delivery timeline.”
Why is the United States limiting supply?
President Biden urged his administration to identify a potential shortage of materials needed for vaccine production.
He enacted the Defense Production Act (DPA), a law from the 1950s that empowers the President of the United States to mobilize the domestic economy in response to emergencies.
DPA allows the United States to restrict exports of products that may be required for domestic manufacturing.
The Biden administration said in February that it would use the law to increase the list of items that US vaccine makers have priority access to, such as special pumps and filtration equipment.
Representatives of various global vaccine makers express concern In early March, we warn you:
Export restrictions from major suppliers can affect global production
Some items are not standardized and are highly specialized
Exchanges for replacements sourced elsewhere can take up to 12 months
Dr. Sarashiffling, a vaccine supply chain expert at Liverpool John Moores University, states that the drug supply chain is very complex.
“Even when demand is very high, new suppliers can’t get up and running as quickly as other industries, or at least those new suppliers aren’t trusted.”
She also states that US measures are both the cause and the reaction to the existing global shortage.
“To some extent, the lack of materials needed for all kinds of products, which are in rapid demand around the world, will be unavoidable,” she says.
Impact on vaccine production
Currently, there are two vaccines approved in India. Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine (locally known as Covishield) and Covaxin. Developed at a research institute in India..
The Indian government says it aims to approve several more vaccines in the coming weeks.
Since early January, SII has exported nearly 150 million Covishields or used them domestically.
Indian pharmaceutical companies have been increasing production in recent months by adding new facilities and converting existing production lines to meet both domestic demand and global supply requirements.
The Serum Institute said in January that at that time there could be 60 to 70 million vaccinations per month. This includes Covishield and Novavax (not yet licensed) developed in the United States.
The SII told the BBC at the time that it was aiming to increase production by 100 million times a month from March, but recently confirmed with them that production was still 60 to 70 million and increased. I wasn’t.
The company did not reveal whether it already had a stockpile of vaccines it produced and how much of its production was allocated for domestic use only.
Does India Meet Domestic Needs?
The Government of India launched a vaccination program on January 16th.
However, since mid-March, infections have increased in some parts of the country, and the impetus for vaccination is now expanding to younger age groups.
So far, SII has agreed to supply the Government of India with 100 million doses, and another company, Bharat Biotech, has supplied 10 million doses.
India has also signed a license agreement with the Gamareya Institute in Russia to produce 200 million doses of Sputnik vaccine.
These are produced by Indian manufacturers for both the Indian market and exports.
SII Chief Adar Poonawalla announced in January that Covishield was officially approved, knowing that companies are prioritizing their needs within India.
However, after Bangladesh asked if the contract to supply Kobishield would be respected, the Indian government subsequently revealed that there were no restrictions on exports.
Impact on Covax supplies
Last September, SII agreed to supply 200 million doses to Covax, a WHO-backed vaccine sharing program to ensure the availability of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. AstraZeneca vaccine and Novavax vaccine are 100 million times each.
According to the United Nations, India has provided 28 million doses to Covax so far.
However, the suspension of exports means that the expected 40 million doses were not received in March, and a further delay is expected in April.
According to UN data, SII also has more than 900 million AstraZeneca vaccines and 145 million Novabacs worth of bilateral commerce.
The Government of India has also donated vaccines to many countries with a particular focus on neighboring countries in South Asia.
India had donated the most vaccines in the world until exports stopped. China currently occupies that position.