India is holding up export licences for COVID-19 vaccines destined for poor countries due to increased domestic demand as its own cases rise, Covax facility co-leader Gavi said.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is being produced under licence in India for the Covax scheme, also led by the World Health Organization, which is meant to ensure that low-income countries can access Covid-19 jabs.
But shipments planned for the rest of March and April are now being delayed.
“Delays in granting further export licenses for Serum Institute (SII) of India-produced COVID-19 vaccine doses are due to the increased demand of COVID-19 vaccines in India,” a Gavi spokesman told AFP.
“SII has pledged that, alongside supplying India, it will prioritize the Covax multilateral solution for equitable distribution. Covax is in talks with the government of India with a view to ensuring deliveries as quickly as possible.”
SII is manufacturing vaccines for 64 lower-income countries via Covax, and for India’s domestic vaccination campaign.
The European Union also warned it would block certain coronavirus vaccine exports, and British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca could be among the pharmaceutical companies to be hit first.
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen warned her bloc would not allow COVID vaccine exports to the UK and other countries until the firms make good on their own promised deliveries.
“I think it is clear that first of all the company (AstraZeneca) has to catch up, has to honor the contract it has with the European member states, before it can engage again in exporting vaccines,” von der Leyen told a news conference.
The Covax global vaccine-sharing scheme ensures that 92 of the poorest countries in the world can access vaccines, with the cost covered by donors.
The scheme aims to distribute enough doses to vaccinate up to 27 percent of their population by the end of the year.
It was supposed to deliver some 238 million doses by the end of May.
This first batch comprises some 237 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, being manufactured in India and South Korea, and another 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which requires special ultra-cold storage.
Both vaccines require two shots.
Covax has so far shipped more than 31 million doses.
Covax is co-led by Gavi, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
The WHO has repeatedly hit out at vaccine nationalism and on Monday branded the growing gap in immunisation rates between rich and poor countries “grotesque.”
In total, worldwide, more than 488 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in at least 164 territories, according to an AFP count.
Some 55 percent of the doses have been administered in high-income countries accounting for 16 percent of the global population.
Just 0.1 percent have been administered in the 29 lowest-income countries, home to nine percent of the global population.