India’s COVID vaccine maker urges Biden to lift exports embargo

Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, says the US embargo on the export of raw materials is hurting the production of shots.

Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India, the world's biggest vaccine maker [File: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has urged President Joe Biden to lift an embargo by the United States on the exports of raw materials that is hurting its production of COVID-19 shots.

“Respected @POTUS, if we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the U.S., I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the US so that vaccine production can ramp up,” SII Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla said in a tweet on Friday.

The SII is making the AstraZeneca shot, which accounts for more than 91 percent of the 115.5 million doses given in the country. The company will soon start producing the Novavax vaccine.

Vaccinations fall from peak

Poonawalla’s appeal came as India’s daily COVID-19 vaccinations slowed from their peak early this month while new infections have set a record, government data showed on Friday.

India has reported the most number of coronavirus cases in the world this month. Its total of 14.3 million is the most after the US, with 174,308 deaths.

Amid the spike and after giving and selling tens of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses abroad, India has suddenly found itself short of the drug.

It has abruptly changed rules to allow it to fast-track vaccine imports, having earlier rebuffed foreign drugmakers like Pfizer.

Vaccinations peaked at 4.5 million doses on April 5 but have averaged about three million a day since then, according to the government’s Co-Win portal to coordinate immunisations.

Many vaccination centres in India are now rationing supplies, though it is only inoculating people above 45 years, having started the campaign in mid-January with front-line workers.

It has administered the most doses in the world after the US and China, but it ranks much lower per capita.

Many states have sought an expansion of the immunisation drive to include all adults, but the government has said doses are “finite”.

The government said on Friday the country had a stock of about 30 million doses. Going by its vaccination trend in the past week, that will be enough for 10 days.

India this week gave emergency authorisation to Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and imports to cover as many as 125 million people will start this month. The government has also urged Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson to sell their shots to India.

It has also allowed biomedical research body Haffkine Institute, based in the state of Maharashtra, to produce the home-grown shot Covaxin as developer Bharat Biotech struggles to boost its output.

Source: Reuters