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India unlikely to resume Covid jabs export until 100% adult vaccination

A top official from the Union health ministry said until 100 per cent adult vaccination with first dose is achieved and jabs are available for future inoculation, India is unlikely to resume the export.

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New Delhi: India is unlikely to remove the embargo on the export of Covid-19 vaccines anytime soon as the Centre’s priority is to achieve 100 per cent adult vaccination with the first dose, government officials said on Tuesday.

“Our focus continues to be on the domestic vaccination programme,” officials looking after the implementation of the Covid-19 vaccination programme in the country told UNI.

The officials, however, did not indicate when the embargo could be lifted.

A top official from the Union health ministry said until 100 per cent adult vaccination with first dose is achieved and jabs are available for future inoculation, India is unlikely to resume the export.

“The country’s current focus is on vaccinating its own population. After achieving the inoculation of its adult population with at least one dose and reviewing the stockpile of the second dose, the country may be in a position to resume the export of the Covid-19 vaccines,” Dr N K Arora, chairperson, Covid-19 working group of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) told UNI.

The Union government has slated an ambitious target to vaccinate 100 per cent of its adult population with at least a single dose before 2021 ends.

India was supplying vaccines to its immediate neighbours and the global COVAX scheme for poorer countries under its ambitious Vaccine Maitri programme until it halted export in the middle of April after the infection exploded amid the deadliest second wave of Coronavirus.

The programme was coordinated by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) which came to a halt after exporting over 63 million doses to 95 countries as India shifted its complete focus on domestic immunisation.

The move is reported to have upset the inoculation plans of many African and South Asian countries. Neighbours such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are now relying on vaccines made in China and donations from other countries.

The last dispatch of vaccines by India before the export ban was made to Albania and Syria of 50,000 and 2.5 lakh doses respectively on April 16.

However, public health experts have criticised the halt in the vaccine export by the government.

One of the top virologists of the country, Professor Shahid Jameel, former head of the Union government’s advisory group to the Indian SARS-COV-2 Genomics Consortia (INSACOG), said, “The decision is not based on science but politics.

“I don’t have much to comment as the decision seems to be influenced by political discourse and foreign policy, which I’m not an expert of,” he said while talking to UNI.

Jameel, who is at present the director at Triveni School of Biosciences, Ashoka University, said India should not have stopped export to vulnerable nations. “None is safe till everyone is safe,” he added.

World Health Organisation Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan had recently stated that India’s ban on the export of Coronavirus vaccines had a severe impact on 91 countries.

A political spar between the Modi government and opposition parties had ensued over the Vaccine Maitri programme after a countrywide shortage of jabs was reported in May.

Opposition parties such as Congress and AAP blamed the Modi government for sending vaccines “meant for Indian citizens” to other countries as a desperate attempt to boost its image abroad.

However, the shortage followed an embargo on vaccine raw material import by the US government in April. The vaccine manufacturers in India required the raw material to ramp up production of Covid-19 vaccines in the country.

Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla had also urged US President Joe Biden to lift the embargo. The import ban was lifted by the US in June. By Ashish Srivastava and Ranjana Narayan

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