No shortage of Covid vaccines, vaccines cannot be open to all: Indian's health minister

India's Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said there is no vaccine shortage in the country and slammed opposition politicians demanding opening up vaccination for all ages

Apr 08, 2021
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India's Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said there is no vaccine shortage in the country and slammed opposition politicians demanding opening up vaccination for all ages.

"So long as the supply of vaccines remains limited, there is no option but to prioritize. This is also the established practice around the world, and is well known to all State governments," said Harsh Vardhan.

"The primary aim of vaccination is to reduce mortality among the most vulnerable people, and enable the society to beat the pandemic. Accordingly, the world's largest vaccination drive was launched in India with the first recipients being our healthcare personnel and front-line workers. Once this had progressed to a certain level, vaccination was opened up to further categories and is currently open to everyone above the age of 45 years," he said.

"When states ask to open up vaccine supplies to everyone over 18, we must presume that they have done saturation coverage of healthcare workers, frontline workers and senior citizens. But the facts are altogether different," the Health Minister added.

Sveral state chief ministers and Congress MP Rahul Gandhihave spoken  in favour of a vaccination drive for all Indians at a time the country is witnessing a massive spike in daily cases.

India registered 115,736 new cases between Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, the highest single-day figure since the outbreak of the virus last year.

During the same period, 630 people also died due to the virus. The total death toll due to the virus now stands at 166,177.

Earlier, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) on Tuesday sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to make vaccines available for all people aged 18 or above.

Legal notice 

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca has sent a legal notice to Serum Institute of India over delays in vaccine supply
 
According to a Business Standard report, Adar Poonawalla, who is the CEO of Serum Institute of India, is trying to resolve the issue "amicably".

The restriction on Covishield exports and the first claim deal with India are difficult to explain to other countries where the shots are sold at a much higher cost, he told Business Standard.

Poonawalla said the SII has given 100 million doses to the Indian government and exported 60 million doses.

At its current capacity, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer is producing 60 to 65 million doses per month.

Meanwhile, US ban on the exports of critical raw materials for vaccines has heightened the challenges in maintaining vaccine supply. The ban imposed under US Defence Production Act is aimed at preserving raw materials for domestic manufacturer Merck & Co to produce Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, said a Reuters report.

SII is partnering with Novavax, an American vaccine development company, to manufacture another vaccine Covovax. Poonawalla has already said that its launch is likely to be delayed to September in India.

In January SII had announced its launch in June.

The US ban on raw materials will impact the production of Covovax by SII in India.

"From this month onwards, whatever we stockpile of Novavax would be half of what we could do, had it not been for US restrictions," Poonwalla said.

"This is as good as banning vaccines."

SII has also sealed a deal to supply 200 million doses to COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, abbreviated as Covax, an effort led by World Health Organization, UNICEF and others to procure and distribute vaccines to poor countries.

Earlier, UNICEF said that it anticipates that Serum Institute of India will be able to resume full deliveries of AstraZeneca vaccine in May.

Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of world's largest vaccine manufacturer Serum Institute of India (SII), has told NDTV it needs Rs 3,000 crore in assistance from the Indian government to expand its production capacity which is currently "very stretched" in wake of the export restrictions imposed by the government last month.

Poonawalla stated that the Indian government pays it far less per shot of the vaccine than what is earned in exports, necessitating funding to boost the production capacity.

"This was never budgeted or planned initially, because we were supposed to export and get the funding from export countries but now that that is not happening, we have to find other innovative ways to build our capacity," Poonawalla said.

He admitted that SII is not able to supply the vaccine to every Indian who needs it and at the moment it is prioritising India's needs.

He said the Indian government is paying Rs 150 per shot which is profitable but not enough for reinvesting.

SII has appealed to the government for financial help after restrictions were imposed on the exports of Covishield to battle a steep rise in cases at home.

Poorer countries as well as some rich nations relied heavily on the Serum Institute of India (SII) to vaccinate their citizens with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Serum Institute produces over two million doses of Covishield per day at its current capacity.

(IBNS)

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