India Slows Vaccine Exports to Focus at Home as Infections Soar
An employee, left, arranges labeled vaccine vials into a box as they exit a machine in the labeling unit at the Serum Institute of India Ltd. pharmaceutical plant in Pune, Maharashtra, India. (Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg)

India Slows Vaccine Exports to Focus at Home as Infections Soar

India has slowed exports of coronavirus vaccines as it expands domestic inoculations to curb a steady increase in infections, according to government officials with knowledge of the matter.

The decision to reduce supplies to other nations came after the South Asian nation decided to expand its vaccination program earlier this week to include everyone over the age of 45, said an official asking not to be identified as the decision to cut shipments has not been officially announced.

India’s infections have been marking a quick uptick over the last month. On Thursday the federal Health Ministry reported a daily jump of over 53,000 new infections, levels last seen in late October. With almost 11.8 million total cases India trails only the U.S. and Brazil as the nation worse hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The world’s biggest vaccine exporter last shipped out shots on March 18, data from India’s Ministry of External Affairs show. Although put on the back-burner, a schedule for vaccine exports is in place until March 28, said another official. The hold on exports may be reviewed in a month or two and India will honor commercial contracts even if at a slower pace, the officials said.

A spokeswoman for the Health Ministry didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

Curbs by India could affect the vaccination plans of several nations across the globe. Medics in the U.K. are facing a four-week Covid-19 vaccine supply cut because of a delayed shipment of AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine from India and a batch that required re-testing.

India Slows Vaccine Exports to Focus at Home as Infections Soar

The World Health Organization-backed Covax initiative, which is buying vaccines for poor and middle-income countries, was experiencing “teething problems” and its major suppliers -- AstraZeneca and Serum Institute of India Ltd. -- can’t keep pace with orders, Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO official, said on Monday.

A spokesperson for Serum declined to comment, though the head of the company, Adar Poonawalla, told Bloomberg in an interview aired last week that India had requested more vaccines than initially expected.

India is expected to ship 1.2 million vaccine doses to neighboring Bangladesh during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit Friday. The decision to send those shots was taken before New Delhi decided to accelerate domestic immunizations, one official said.

The country has exported or donated more than 60 million shots as part of its vaccine diplomacy efforts.

India has administered 53.15 million shots so far and inoculated -- or given two vaccine doses -- to 8.29 million people or 0.6% of its population, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. The country had set a target of immunizing 300 million healthcare and frontline workers by August but has struggled to meet that. In March it widened its criteria to include anyone over 60 and people over 45, with comorbidities. From April 1 that list will include everyone over 45.

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