Africa seeks more Covid-19 vaccine doses from India

Wednesday 13th October 2021 06:49 EDT

Pretoria: The African Union has signalled a demand for more Covid-19 vaccine doses from India, even as the Asian country recovers from low production following months of a deadly wave. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the African Union will send a delegation to India for negotiations on further supplies to Africa.

“We are very glad that India is embarking on vaccine exports. However, we are yet to know the number of doses Africa will receive,” said Dr John Nkengasong, who heads the Africa CDC, during a virtual press conference.

India was a key vaccine exporter to Africa before it stopped the export to focus on fighting the local infections. Now the African Union says India’s resumption of vaccine exports means the continent has to directly engage with the country on supplies.

“President Cyril Ramaphosa, the AU champion on Covid-19, is dispatching a delegation to India, which will include Strive Masiyiwa, AU’s Special Envoy, to talk to the Indian leadership so that they release vaccines to us,” Nkengasong said.

As per the official agreement from last year, the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is the largest vaccine maker in the world, was expected to supply a billion doses to the low and middle-income countries. The vaccine maker was required to provide 400 million vaccine doses in 2020 alone through Gavi, the international vaccine alliance of which the World Health Organisation (WHO) is a member.

This commitment did not materialise, following a surge in Covid cases in India, which prompted the Indian government to ban export of vaccine and prioritise her citizens. After exporting 66.3 million doses by April 16, this year, which were touted by the Indian government as Vaccine Maitri (vaccine friendship), meant to position India as a vaccine-manufacturing hub, the initiative has since been halted.

Earlier this year, WHO said that India's decision to ban Covid-19 vaccine exports had severely affected 91 nations that had been dependent on the SII for vaccines. The global heath body further explained that with inadequate vaccine supply, many countries and especially in Africa remained extremely susceptible to new strains of Covid-19, including B.1.617.2, which was first discovered in India.

“There are 91 countries that have been impacted by the shortage of supplies, particularly since the AstraZeneca parent company has not been able to compensate for the doses which have not come from Serum.

“If this inequitable distribution of available vaccines persist, some countries will return to normal while others will be hit very hard by subsequent waves," Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist explained.

Last week, Kenya’s Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe asked India, which also has a ‘fill and finish’ deal in place with Johnson and Johnson (J&J), to remember her obligations to prioritise meeting her Covax commitments and obligations despite their own challenges.

“We appeal to countries like India, with whom we had an agreement under the Covax facility, to deliver vaccines, to honour their promise and obligations towards us. We understand that they, too, have a challenge with the surge in infections. But they have to meet their obligations,” he said. However, the SII Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Adar Poonawalla said that it is crucial for nations depending on India for vaccines to remember that the country is also a low income country.

“Our exports to Covax will recommence again in October. However, we will only manage to export in large quantities in January 2022 to Covax after local demand has been met,” Poonawalla said.

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