Vaccine shortages, as India largest manufacturer faces devastating crisis

The supply of Covid-19 vaccines has been negatively affected, as India – home to the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, is experiencing a devastating wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access, abbreviated as COVAX, a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines directed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), which receives some of its vaccines from the Serum Institute of India confirmed the Indian crisis halted vaccine supply.

Gavi Vaccine Alliance Managing Director of Country Programmes, overseeing Gavi’s operations in 73 countries, Thabani Maphosa, admitted that vaccines were not coming as fast as they would have wanted them to.

“As of today COVAX has delivered 18 million dosses to 41 countries across the continent, almost 40 million doses for lower and middle income countries worldwide. Our system is working however not fast enough due to the devastating waves our brothers and sisters are experiencing in India. There is a delay in the delivery of Covishield,” he said in a Thursday press conference organised by the WHO Regional Office for Africa.

“At this particular point, to navigate these delays our first priority is to help countries that have already received to receive another set of doses so that they can administer the second dose.”

He said in terms of vaccine shortfall, India had scheduled to give COVAX vaccines for April and May but halted vaccine exports to deal with its local situation.

“For these months, it is  clear we will not be getting our supplies. That is the gap we are dealing with,” said the COVAX official.

Maphosa said to manage the situation, WHO has issued guidance to all COVAX participants to help them prepare accordingly.

“WHO and UNICEF country offices are also providing tailored expertise support to countries that need this guidance and I can tell you those countries that have been hit by delays will be a priority for catch up once supplies resume,” he said.

The COVAX managing director said a number of measures to have deliveries flowing again would be done.

“We are in close contact with the Serum Institute of India, which have assured us that while they will prioritise supply to India (now), the COVAX facility is next in line,” Maphosa said.

“We are also urgently appealing to countries that have vaccines to share with COVAX. France has already responded to this call with vaccines that went out to Mauritania in the week that is just closing.  Sweden has announced it will donate a million doses to COVAX. We would like to thank these countries that have said they will donate. We  urge those that have not done so to follow suit.”

Maphosa noted it was always COVAX’s plan to diversify its portfolio and this week demonstrated solid progress with an announcement of a deal with Moderna (an American pharmaceutical company) for 500 million Covid-19 doses.

“In a few hours time, we will make an announcement that will again grow our portfolio considerably. We are also aggressively fundraising for COVAX vaccines. The Advance Market Commitment, (AMC) which supplies most of the vaccines to Africa, is our innovative finance mechanism to provide donor funded doses for 92 lower income countries,” he said.

To date, COVAX has raised over US$6.5 billon from donors and is seeking a further US$1.7 billion to secure 1.8 billion doses of vaccines.

“This will enable the AMC to protect 30 percent or half the adult population in 91 countries. All of these initiatives will soon have a big impact in the region. We are telling donors and manufacturers that supplies need to come soon so that COVAX can deliver. It is by working together that we can end this pandemic but progress will show for those vaccines delivered,” Maphosa noted.

Maphosa said COVAX was also talking to Johnson and Johnson for its Covid-19 vaccine, whose discussion has progressed well.

“We are also engaging with China and Russia. We have always said any vaccines that have been prequalified and have evidence to WHO will be considered to COVAX. COVAX is doing more making sure we engage in conversations ahead of time. We will wait for appropriate data to WHO for decision making before we affirm,” he said.

The COVAX official welcomed the United States decision to support a move, at the World Trade Organisation, to temporarily lift patent protections for coronavirus vaccines.

“This was the one piece standing in our way of increasing production capacity as much as possible but we have always said it one necessary step as part of a suite of solutions,”he said.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, also supported America’s decision to temporary waiver patent protection on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.

“This could mark as a  game changer for Africa, unlocking millions more doses and saving countless more lives. Local production can really take off as investment will be needed, technology transfer, capacity building and quality assurance by strong regulatory systems and private sector partnerships,” she said.

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