World's largest vaccine maker resumes Covid-19 shot exports

The world's largest vaccine maker Serum Institute of India on Friday resumed exports of Covid-19 shots, it said, in a boost for poorer countries that have struggled to secure supplies.

A nurse prepares a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine shot, manufactured by Serum Institute of India, inside the Vaccination Centre at Rajawadi Hospital in Mumbai, India, Jan. 16, 2021. (Photo: Xinhua)

The shipment to Tajikistan under the COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative agreement was the company's first in seven months.

"This will go a long way in restoring vaccine supply equality in the world," tweeted billionaire chief executive Adar Poonawalla.

"It's a huge moment to begin exports again, for us, our partners at COVAX and the low- and middle-income countries we support," he added in a separate statement.

India blocked vaccine exports in April as it struggled to combat a vicious second wave of coronavirus infections and vaccine shortages of its own.

Those restrictions were lifted Friday, according to reports.

Poonawalla has been openly critical of vaccine inequity, calling wealthy countries "unethical" for administering booster shots while developing nations struggle to access first and second jabs.

Under COVAX, the world's 92 poorest countries can access inoculations for free, with donors covering the cost.

The Serum Institute of India (SII) plant in Pune was intended to be the early backbone of COVAX's supply chain, but was prevented from fulfilling its commitments due to the export ban.

Friday's exports saw Serum surpass its target of producing one billion doses of Covishield -- its version of the AstraZeneca jab -- before the end of the year.

"Covishield remains an important product which has the potential to help us protect hundreds of millions of people in the months ahead," said Seth Berkley, CEO of the Gavi vaccine alliance, which leads COVAX.

"The resumption of supplies from Serum Institute of India is an important development for COVAX as it enters its busiest period yet for shipping vaccines."

India has administered over 1.2 billion jabs to its citizens -- 38 percent of its eligible population receiving two doses -- while Covid-19 infections in India have fallen to a March 2020-low in recent weeks.