The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has resumed exports of coronavirus vaccines to the UN-backed COVAX distribution programme after halting most overseas sales in March.
The company was to have been COVAX’s main supplier, but an explosion of cases in India resulted in a pause of exports.
At the time, Serum Institute had contracts to provide COVAX with 200 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, and unfinalised agreements to supply 350 million more. The suspension was a significant setback for global efforts to distribute vaccines equitably.
GAVI, the vaccine alliance which co-manages COVAX, said the company had provided just less than 30 million doses to it.
With new infections in India at the lowest level in months, Serum resumed exports on Friday. Its shipment to Tajikistan under the COVAX initiative was the company’s first in seven months.
“This will go a long way in restoring vaccine supply equality in the world,” Serum Institute chief executive Adar Poonawalla wrote on Twitter.
“It’s a huge moment to begin exports again, for us, our partners at COVAX and the low- and middle-income countries we support,” he added in a separate statement
Serum said it expects exports to increase substantially in early 2022.
The resumption came after the institute exceeded its original target to produce 1 billion doses of the vaccine branded as Covishield by the end of the year, the company said in a statement. It has produced more than 1.25 billion doses so far.
Serum Institute also started making the Novavax vaccine under license in June. Experts say the vaccine – which has been greenlit by regulators in Indonesia and the Philippines – is easier to store and transport than some others, and this may allow it to play an important role in boosting global vaccine supplies.
“We can be more hopeful that WHO’s target to vaccinate 70 percent of the world’s population by the middle of the next year can be met,” Poonawalla said regarding the addition of the new vaccine.
Although coronavirus restrictions have been lifted in India, countries in Asia and Europe have been tightening border controls after the detection of a new variant in southern Africa that scientists say could resist vaccines.
India’s federal government has asked states to scale up screening of travellers from some countries and the genetic sequencing of any detected infections.