30 March 2021
India's new limits on AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine exports has forced several Asian nations to find new suppliers.
The country's Serum Institute is manufacturing the AstraZeneca vaccine. India decided recently to temporarily limit exports of the medicine as the nation itself faces rising demand for vaccines.
The Serum Institute had planned to produce 90 million doses for the World Health Organization-backed COVAX vaccine program. The international program aims to deploy COVID-19 vaccines to poorer nations around the world.
It was not immediately clear how many vaccine doses would be set aside for use in India. But Indian export restrictions could interfere with the COVAX program, which aims to serve 64 nations. Vaccine production problems already trouble the program. It also struggles from a lack of money. Wealthy countries are not providing enough financial support to COVAX, COVAX officials say.
The shortage is likely to leave poor countries without necessary vaccine supplies and lead to increases in vaccine inequity. It could also make it more difficult for some nations to control COVID-19 as new virus versions appear.
South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam are among countries to be hit by vaccine shipment delays under the COVAX program.
Carlito Galvez is heading COVID-19 vaccine efforts in the Philippines. He told reporters that COVAX shortages mean the country's "planned increase in daily vaccinations will be affected."
In Indonesia, a health ministry official told Reuters that 10.3 million doses from COVAX were likely to be delayed until May.
South Korea confirmed it would only receive 432,000 doses of the 690,000 it was promised and would likely not receive those until around the third week of April. The head of South Korea's COVID-19 vaccination effort, Kim Ki-nam, said the country was "making efforts to secure more vaccines."
In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte decided to loosen government restrictions on private vaccine imports to make it easier for companies to get much-needed supplies.
In Vietnam, officials have also sought help from private companies after the nation's COVAX supplies were cut by 40 percent and shipments now face long delays.
India has not provided details on how long its export restriction will last. But UNICEF, a COVAX partner, recently said shipments are expected to restart by May.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday that COVAX needed 10 million vaccine doses immediately to fill an urgent need. "We are already in discussion with some countries and there is some positive signal," he said.
Data from UNICEF shows that India itself had received over a third of the nearly 28 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from COVAX so far, the most of any country. News that the largest amount of the program's Indian-made vaccines had never left India could add to criticism of the Indian government and COVAX.
Africa is highly dependent on COVAX for its vaccines. Nearly all the 89 million doses the continent was to receive through COVAX in the coming weeks were AstraZeneca from India. Reuters reported that just 15 million doses had been received so far.
"We have good diplomatic relations with China and Russia and we are asking if we can have access to their vaccines in April," said the Philippines' Carlito Galvez.
Both the Philippines and Indonesia are currently depending heavily on vaccines from China's Sinovac Biotech. The Philippines and Vietnam have also approved Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, along with more than 50 other mainly developing nations.
I'm Bryan Lynn.
Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
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Words in This Story
dose – n. the amount of a medicine, drug, or vitamin that is taken at one time
inequity – n. the state of being unfair, or something that is unfair
positive – adj. marked by or suggesting acceptance or approval
access – v. the right or ability to approach, enter, or use