India will likely restart exporting Covid-19 vaccines next year once it has immunized its own adult population, the head of an influential government expert panel said.
“Almost 60 countries are hardly having any access to vaccine and India should be able to provide a substantial portion in 2022,” NK Arora, chairman of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization in India, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Tuesday. “As soon as we are through with our adult population we should have sufficient vaccine to share with the rest of the world.”
India, which has the second largest Covid outbreak with 32.5 million infections, should have six locally-developed shots by the end of 2021, Arora said. As the head of vaccine advisory group, he helps the Indian government evaluate new vaccines as well as review data from those already rolled out.
Home to the world’s biggest vaccine-producing industry, India earlier this year was shipping out shots to poorer nations amid Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-touted vaccine diplomacy. There was also an expectation that the country would be a major supplier to the World Health Organization-backed Covax effort for global equitable access to these vaccines.
But the onset of a devastating second-wave of infections and local supply delays prompted the government to prioritize its own citizens and halted overseas shipments in April.
Covax has since struggled to make up for the shortfall, looking instead to countries such as China to fill the gap as India slowly bolsters its own capacity. A boosted portfolio of vaccines by the year end should cover Indian government’s plans to fully immunize 920 million adults, Arora said.
“That means our requirement will be 1.8 million doses by that time,” he said. “The way our pipeline is we should be able to reach and meet our target by the end of the year.”
Already vaccines from AstraZeneca Plc- churned out by the Serum Institute of India Ltd- and Bharat Biotech International Ltd are being widely deployed in the country, while doses from Cadila Healthcare Ltd and Russia’s Sputnik V are expected to begin local production in coming months.
Serum, the country’s largest supplier, should be raising its monthly contribution to about 150 million doses from almost 120 million shots currently, Arora said. By September, Bharat Biotech will provide about 120 million doses after “some initial glitches.” Other Indian vaccine makers, Biological E. Ltd and Genova Biopharmaceuticals Ltd, should also start contributing to the supplies, he said.
India has so far administered more than 589 million doses, but even that huge coverage has only fully vaccinated about 10% of the population.
Arora said that India isn’t looking to imported vaccines to help boost its own supplies. The country has been negotiating with foreign vaccine makers, such as Pfizer Inc, over legal indemnity clauses that the companies are demanding but there’s been no breakthrough yet.
“We are totally, kind of, banking on indigenously manufactured vaccines,” he said. “Our estimates on supply lines do not take into account any of the vaccines from abroad.”