The world’s largest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India (SII), has told Brazil, Morocco and Saudi Arabia that further supplies of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine will be delayed, according to the Times of India, citing a letter from the institute’s president.
Adar Poonawalla is said to have written to Brazil to say that, “regrettably”, a January fire at one of its manufacturing facilities had “caused obstacles” and the institute would not be able to fulfil its commitments. Similar communications were sent to Morocco and Saudi Arabia, the paper reported.
The Reuters news agency said a source with “direct knowledge of the matter” confirmed the holdup, saying it was also due to surging domestic demand. The SII and the four countries involved have not commented on the reports.
India’s programme of “vaccine maitri” (vaccine friendship), in which it has sold or given away more coronavirus vaccines than it has administered at home, has been locally praised as a diplomatic success.
However, with the country reporting the most number of coronavirus infections after the US and Brazil, the government is being criticised domestically for exporting precious supplies. India is in the midst of a second surge in cases, taking its total to about 11.6 million.
Poonawalla said last month in a tweet that countries should be patient as the SII had “been directed to prioritise the huge needs of India”.
The most recent delays came to light days after the UK said it would have to slow its Covid-19 vaccine programme next month because SII was likely to deliver doses later than expected.
The SII has supplied half of the 10m doses the UK has recently ordered. On Thursday, it said it would “try to supply more later, based on the current situation and the requirement for the government immunisation programme in India”.
Brazil has already received 4m doses from the SII, Saudi Arabia 3m doses and Morocco 7m, according to India’s foreign ministry. The three countries had ordered 20m each.
The SII has partnerships with AstraZeneca, the Gates Foundation and the Gavi vaccine alliance to make up to a billion doses for poorer countries.
The anonymous source who spoke to Reuters said the SII was working on expanding its monthly production to 100m doses by April or May, from 60m to 70m now.
It was originally supposed to sell vaccines only to middle- and low-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, but production issues at other AstraZeneca facilities forced it to ship to many other countries on the UK company’s behalf.
India has so far donated 8m doses and sold nearly 52m doses to 75 countries, mainly the AstraZeneca shot made by the SII. India has administered more than 44m doses since starting its immunisation campaign in the middle of January.