India says Covid vaccine exports to restart in October

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India was forced to halt vaccine exports earlier in the year as it battled a deadly wave of Covid infections (AFP/Arun SANKAR)

India will resume exporting Covid-19 vaccines from October, five months after it stopped sending supplies abroad in the face of a deadly wave of infections, the health minister said Monday.

The South Asian giant, dubbed the "pharmacy of the world", was a major supplier to the Covax programme aimed at ensuring poor countries can access doses.

Exports stopped in April, according to foreign ministry data, when a virus surge in India pushed the healthcare system to breaking point and there was a huge demand for jabs.

Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said more than 300 million vaccine doses would be produced in October and one billion in the last three months of the year.

"India will be resuming export of vaccines... in order to fulfill the commitment of India towards Covax," Mandaviya said in a statement.

"The surplus supply of vaccines will be used to fulfill our commitment towards the world for the collective fight against Covid-19."

Covax is co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Gavi vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, with UNICEF using its vaccine logistics expertise to handle the delivery flights.

Under Covax, the 92 poorest countries can access jabs for free, with donors covering the cost.

The Serum Institute of India (SII) plant, producing AstraZeneca doses, was supposed to be the early backbone of Covax's supply chain.

A Gavi spokesman welcomed the news from New Delhi.

"This could have an immense positive impact on both health security within India as well as globally," he told AFP.

"Our priority right now is to engage with the government of India and the SII to understand the impact this will have on our supply schedule, as we race to protect as many vulnerable people as we can from Covid-19."

Some 5.9 billion coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered around the world, according to an AFP count.

So far, Covax has shipped 286 million doses -- far below where it wanted to be at this stage -- to 141 participating economies.

In a tweet, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged world leaders to "guarantee vaccine equity and equitable access to other Covid-19 tools".

Launched in January, India's vaccination campaign was slow to take off because of shortages and hesitancy among the population.

But the pace has picked up in recent weeks, with authorities currently administering between five to eight million coronavirus shots every day.

The country hit a record 22 million coronavirus jabs in a day on Friday as part of a special vaccination drive for the birthday of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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