Serum Institute to export Covid-19 vaccine to 25-30 countries on Tuesday

Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, WHO
The first shipment of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines by Serum Institute of India (SII) will leave for 25-30 countries under the Covax arrangement by Tuesday, said a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official. 

Speaking at a webinar on Monday, Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at WHO, said, “By tomorrow (Tuesday), the first shipments from India would go out from Serum Institute to 25-30 countries. Then, we hope that this will be followed by other vaccines that would be made in India.”

Discouraging vaccine nationalism, Swaminathan said that manufacturers need to prioritise Covax to bilateral deals. “What we see today is kind of the opposite, that there are more bilateral deals than supplies to Covax,” she said. 

Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer (CEO) of SII had tweeted on Sunday, “Dear countries & governments, as you await #COVISHIELD supplies, I humbly request you to please be patient, @SerumInstIndia has been directed to prioritise the huge needs of India and along with that balance the needs of the rest of the world. We are trying our best.”

Swaminathan also insisted that countries in the high income, middle income and low income categories need to play by the rules of the game as Covax will only succeed if countries prioritise deliveries and not take the resources away. “They should not impose export bans,” she quipped. 

Meanwhile, Krishna Ella, chairman and managing director (MD) of Bharat Biotech, said he was keen to join Covax. “We are supplying a lot of vaccines like the typhoid conjugate and the rotavirus to UNICEF already. We would want to be part of the WHO Covax very soon. The moment we come out with the phase 3 efficacy data, we would want to be part of Covax,” said Ella.

He added that Bharat Biotech is also keen to work with WHO on the intra-nasal vaccine and would like to move things faster. The vaccine will go into phase 1 clinical trials this week. 

Ella felt that, at the moment, vaccine distribution is a bit disoriented and unorganised. “Every country is trying to procure, talking to the political systems. It is a bit unorganised today, but once enough supplies are there, it will be much more organised. In the next 5-6 months, I expect vaccine distribution efforts around the globe to be more organised,” he said. 

WHO-led Covax already has a funding gap of $2-3 billion for 2021 alone, Swaminathan said. As for the ACT Accelerator (or Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator), the funding gap is to the tune of $23 billion or so. 

ACT Accelerator is a G20 initiative announced in April 2020 for global collaboration to accelerate the development, production and equitable access of Covid treatment. Covax is the vaccine pillar of the ACT Accelerator.

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