Just months ago, COVID-19 vaccines were so scarce in India that computer experts were writing software code to help people get hold of scarce vaccination spots, and the then health minister had to continually battle opposition criticism on social media.
The minister later resigned and came in a little-known but practical politician, Mansukh Mandaviya, who, according to someone close to him, communicates with vaccine manufacturers almost daily and tries to resolve their problems promptly.
The stocks of vaccines have increased.
Government officials say they are confident they will fully immunize almost all adults by December.
That will help the bubbly global COVAX vaccine-sharing program, which falls far short of its promise to deliver 2 billion doses this year amid supply problems and India’s export restrictions.
The GAVI vaccine alliance, which is sponsoring the program along with the World Health Organization, UNICEF and CEPI, cut COVAX’s delivery target by nearly 30% to 1.425 billion doses this month.
“This could have an immensely positive impact on health security both within India and around the world,” a GAVI spokesman told Reuters about the export announcement on Monday.
“Our priority right now is to work with the Government of India and the Serum Institute of India (SII) to understand the implications for our delivery schedule.”
The turnaround is largely thanks to the SII, which is cranking up more cans of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot than the government’s most optimistic forecast.
SII would ship 200 million doses of the Covishield-branded vaccine to the government this month, compared to about 150 million the previous month, said a government source that refused to be identified.
NEW PRODUCTION LINES
The government said in May that Covishield production could reach 750 million cans between August and December, but actual production could exceed 900 million, said two other sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
“The company added new lines, received quick approvals to divert a line for another vaccine,” said one of the sources.
There are now five production lines making Covishield, up from just two in April, according to the source. The person said the monthly production of SII could go as high as 215 million cans.
The Ministry of Health and SII did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bharat Biotech, the maker of India’s first domestically developed meal, Covaxin, told Reuters its monthly production will nearly triple to 100 million cans by the end of the year.
SII also received financial and diplomatic aid from the government, following a request on social media and elsewhere, to secure supplies of raw materials from the United States.
This allowed India, which has reported the highest number of infections worldwide after the US, to step up its vaccination campaign, giving 65% of its 944 million adults at least one dose and 22% the required two doses.
Health Minister Mandaviya told reporters Monday that he expects total domestic vaccine production to exceed 1 billion doses in the October-December quarter, which would be more than enough to meet domestic demand.
India is the world’s largest vaccine maker, and its companies, including SII, Bharat Biotech, and Biological E, which bottlings for Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, have tripled their capacity to produce nearly 3 billion doses a year, one of which Most of them could be available for foreign sales from next year.
“We will continue to produce more to meet our needs and also export,” said Mandaviya.
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