Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya told reporters that vaccine production is likely to increase in the coming weeks. After fulfilling the country’s domestic requirements, excess supplies will be exported next month under the Vaccine Maitri or Friendship program, Mandaviya said. “We will help the world and fulfill our responsibility to Covax,” he said.
New vaccines were also likely to be approved, he said, which would augment the supply.
The minister said that the country’s vaccine production has more than doubled since April and was likely to quadruple to reach 300 million doses next month, reported New Delhi Television. It is not clear yet how many doses will be exported at first.
In April, India had halted vaccine exports and donations to expand its own vaccine program amid a devastating second wave that at its peak registered more than 400,000 daily cases. Now, cases have fallen to just around 30,000 a day and its vaccine drive has gathered momentum.
India’s announcement is expected to come as a relief for Covax, the international vaccine distribution effort that had faced an immediate 90 million dose shortfall in April after exports were halted.
Health officials in India had called it a temporary restriction that would be resolved within weeks. Before the restrictions kicked in, India had donated or exported more than 65 million vaccine doses to dozens of countries.
Covax had expected India’s Serum Institute — the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer — to supply a big chunk of its target of more than 1 billion doses to low-income countries by the end of 2021. Last week, Covax said it had delivered 250 million doses so far. Its supply forecast was 25 percent lower than what it had estimated in June.
Even as India’s export halt disrupted the global supply chain, wealthy countries have come under fire for considering booster shots for their own, already vaccinated, populations.
In a statement this month, the World Health Organization highlighted the gaping inequity. “Only 20% of people in low- and lower-middle-income countries have received a first dose of vaccine compared to 80% in high- and upper-middle-income countries.”
India’s announcement comes days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States where he is scheduled to meet the leaders of the Quad countries. The Washington Post reported last week that President Biden plans to call on world leaders to make new commitments to fight the pandemic, including a target to vaccinate 70 percent of the world within a year.
While India’s vaccine drive had sputtered in earlier stages, it has gathered pace in recent months. The Indian government has said it plans to immunize all adults by December, a tall order for the country of nearly 1.4 billion people. This week, to mark Modi’s birthday, a record 25 million shots were administered in a day, according to the Health Ministry.
More than 60 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine so far and around 20 percent are fully vaccinated.