A second round of Covid-19 is wreaking havoc across India. The country’s overburdened health system is on the verge of collapsing: shortages of hospital beds and oxygen have led to a condition in which reported deaths exceed 200,000, although the true death rate is expected to be even higher.
The vaccine deployment in India was too poor for a population of nearly 1.4 billion people. Since the vaccine campaign began on January 16, 2021, less than 2% of the population has been completely vaccinated, and less than 10% has received their first dose.
India is home to the world’s biggest vaccine producer, the Serum Institute of India. It is also home to the country’s second-largest producer, Bharat Biotech. These two facilities produce about 2.5 million doses per day when merged. Despite this capacity of vaccine production, only a limited portion of it has been used to vaccinate people in India.
By late March, the Indian vaccination rate had reached 2.5 million a day. At that time, the Serum Institute had shipped millions of vaccine doses to some of the world’s poorest countries as part of COVAX, an initiative aimed at achieving global Covid-19 vaccine access equality. The manufacturer was told to stop exporting in order to prioritize vaccines for the Indian population.
According to Yadav, the majority of the raw materials used in the manufacturing of these vaccines are produced in the United States and the European Union. “essentially, everyone buys from them.” And the majority of India’s supply came from the United States.
On February 5, however, President Joe Biden declared that he would use the Defense Procurement Act to steer domestic manufacturing and production toward meeting domestic needs. “It’s not actually an export control, but it means, ‘Put all else on hold and concentrate on supplies for us,’” Yadav explains.
Vaccine distribution centers are now short of doses and have to drive patients away.
Suresh Jadhav, the Serum Institute’s executive director, stated that the institute’s vaccine manufacturing will be impacted in the next four to six weeks. Going elsewhere for a replacement producer necessitates thorough tests and clearance, which takes time – time that India lacks.
The Serum Institute was left in a difficult spot. On April 16, Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute, publicly pleaded with Biden on Twitter to “lift the embargo” on raw materials used to produce the vaccines.
His pleas were received, and on April 25, the United States lifted restrictions on the export of vaccine raw materials. However, lifting the ban would not result in an increase in vaccine capability immediately, according to Yadav.
In reality, it could take six to twelve weeks before you see any results. However, he claims that it would guarantee that no jobs are lost and could also increase production capability. It will require a unified global effort to scale up vaccinations in India, says Amar Ramudhin, a supply chain expert at the University of Hull.
The United States has already stated that it will give up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to other nations, with India potentially being one of them. However, it will be “when they become available.”
The United States has also stated that it would finance Biological E, an Indian vaccine production corporation, in order to manufacture at least one billion vaccine doses by December 2022.