India's Serum Institute resumes exports of AstraZeneca shot to COVAX facility

A man displays a vial AstraZeneca's COVISHIELD vaccine. File photo: Reuters/Francis Kokoroko

Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's biggest vaccine maker, said on Friday it had shipped the first batch of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 shot to the COVAX vaccine-sharing platform after an eight-month hiatus.

India in March put a temporary hold on all major exports of the AstraZeneca shot made by the family-run firm to inoculate its citizens during a devastating surge in COVID-19 cases.

The resumption came after SII 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.

The move also comes as countries in Asia and Europe tighten border controls after the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa that scientists say could resist vaccines.

SII said its supply of doses through COVAX was expected to increase substantially into the first quarter of 2022.

It will bring into production other vaccines under licence, including COVOVAX from U.S.-based Novavax, to boost its output.

Earlier this month, Reuters had reported India could resume deliveries of COVID-19 shots to COVAX in a few weeks.

SII Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla told Reuters last month his company was expecting to export 20-30 million Covishield doses to COVAX in November and an equal amount in December, with volumes set to increase from January once India's own needs were close to being fully met.

As per government records 82% of the country's population has received the first dose, while the second dose coverage is at 43%.

The organisations running COVAX had said in September that the global programme providing COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries was on course to fall nearly 30% short of its previous goal of 2 billion shots this year.

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