The UK will receive 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University Covid-19 vaccine from a manufacturer in India, amid criticism that wealthier nations are stockpiling doses.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccinations by volume, is mass producing the AstraZeneca vaccine at its facility in the Indian city of Pune so that doses can be sold for as little as $3 (£2.20) to some of the world’s poorest nations through the Covax vaccine-sharing programme.
India, known as the pharmacy of the developing world, supplies more than 50 per cent of global vaccines and 25 per cent of the NHS’s generic drugs.
A Department of Health spokesperson said the government had been assured that its deal with SII would not hit countries in the developing world, which are also expecting vaccines from the Indian manufacturer. The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca in total.
“The Serum Institute is one part of our supply chain for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which also includes production in parts of the EU as well as here in the UK,” the Department of Health spokesperson added.
“We are confident in our vaccine supplies and remain on track to offer a first vaccine to all adults by 31 July.”
The UK was the first nation to begin immunising its citizens on December 8 and has already vaccinated over one third of its adult population after ordering 400 million doses of seven of the most promising vaccines.
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In comparison, the first Covid-19 doses were only administered in African nations on Monday, including Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, through the Covax vaccine distribution scheme.
“Vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community. We must ensure that everybody, everywhere, can be vaccinated as soon as possible,” cautioned António Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations. “We cannot afford to split our planet and societies into vaccine haves and have-nots.”
Covax is aiming to deliver 277 million doses of various Covid-19 vaccines to 142 low and middle-income countries by the end of May, with the SII producing around 50 million vaccines for the scheme each month.
The SII has also separately agreed to export doses to neighbouring low income countries through bilateral deals, including Bangladesh and Nepal, at a reduced cost.
“It is vitally important we distribute our vaccine outside of India, otherwise the pandemic could keep circulating from abroad, it’s a global effort,” Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of the SII, told the Telegraph.
India’s own stuttering domestic immunisation programme, has been marred by vaccine hesitancy and technical problems.
Only 14 million doses have been administered so far, despite the Indian government ambitiously aiming to immunise 300 million “priority people” by the end of July, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly receiving his first dose on Monday in an attempt to boost enthusiasm.
The programme is using the AstraZeneca vaccine and Bharat Biotech’s domestically-developed jab, which is yet to complete Phase Three testing to fully determine its safety and efficacy.
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