NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - India restarted shipments of Covid-19 vaccines to the Covax initiative, a much needed boost for the beleaguered global sharing body that has struggled to meet targets to inoculate many of the world's poorest nations.
The Serum Institute of India Ltd, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, said an unnumbered amount of doses of its locally made AstraZeneca Plc shot were shipped for export to Covax on Friday (Nov 26).
Serum expects to increase doses "substantially" into the first quarter of next year and to include Novavax Inc.'s inoculation at an unspecified time.
The decision by India after abruptly halting shipments in April follows growing confidence with the ramped-up pace of its once ponderous domestic inoculation drive.
According to Bloomberg's vaccine tracker, more than half of India's 1.4 billion people have had at least one dose and infection rates have plateaued to relative lows last seen in early 2021, before the country's severe second-wave took hold.
"It's a huge moment to begin exports again," Serum's Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla said in a statement. "The world has largely depended on the low-cost, high-quality pharmaceuticals and vaccines that India has traditionally exported."
Since the start of the pandemic, Covax had looked to India's massive vaccine manufacturing capabilities to help it procure cheap shots for low-income nations that would struggle to finance their own inoculation drives.
But those plans fell through after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government prioritised its own citizens as a highly lethal wave of infections driven by the Delta variant hit earlier this year.
India had already tentatively resumed a small number of bilateral vaccine exports to neighbouring countries in October.
However, dispatches to Covax weren't restarted until after the WHO granted emergency authorisation in early November to Covaxin, an Indian Covid shot co-developed by the country's state-funded medical research agency and local vaccine maker Bharat Biotech International Ltd.
Mr Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has heavily promoted Covaxin, of which 130 million doses have been administered across India. The WHO's independent technical panel took months to scrutinise data from the vaccine's clinical trials, repeatedly asking Bharat Biotech for further data and delaying its eventual green light.
The World Health Organisation has set a target to vaccinate at least 40 per cent of people in every country by the end of the year with the help of Covax, after falling short of previous goals.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called the immunisation chasm between rich and poor countries morally "grotesque." Many wealthier countries are already deploying booster shots and have used three quarters of all the Covid vaccines produced, the WHO said in October.
Dr Ghebreyesus has repeatedly urged highly-vaccinated nations to step up their support to low income ones to help hasten the end of the pandemic.