PNG secures first major shipment of COVID-19 vaccine from India

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A vial of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which is produced in India and marketed as Covishield, is pictured during the vaccination campaign in Kyiv, Ukraine March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

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SYDNEY, April 7 (Reuters) - Papua New Guinea will receive 132,000 doses of AstraZeneca PLC's (AZN.L) COVID-19 vaccine from India next week, the PNG government told Reuters, even as the world's biggest vaccine maker curbs exports.

The Pacific island nation is facing a crisis as its health systems grapple with a steep rise in infections while also facing delays to its vaccination programme that relies on supplies from the global COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme.

PNG Health Minister Jelta Wong told Reuters on Wednesday that the delivery from India was scheduled to arrive next week.

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India said last month that it put a temporary hold on COVID-19 vaccine exports to prioritise domestic supplies as local infections rise. read more

The export curb deepened the problem facing 64 poorer countries that rely on the World Health Organization vaccine-sharing programme.

Small countries including East Timor recently received their first COVAX vaccine deliveries, although it was not immediately clear where the doses were manufactured.

Papua New Guinea, which has a sprawling population of roughly 9 million, has started a modest vaccination programme using just over 8,000 doses sent by Australia. read more

It was due to receive 588,000 AstraZeneca doses through COVAX by the end of June before export restrictions were placed on vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India amid a deadly second wave of local infections. read more

It is unclear how the schedule has been disrupted.

PNG's COVID-19 control centre, UNICEF's representative in the island nation and the GAVI vaccine alliance did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment on Wednesday.

Export supplies of AstraZeneca's vaccine manufactured in Europe have also been curbed as the continent struggles to vaccinate its own populations. read more

PNG's official COVID-19 death toll stands at 67, according to an April 5 statement, while there are more than 7,400 infections. Australia has previously said that tally vastly underestimates the extent of the crisis as PNG does not do mass testing. read more

Aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said in March that PNG's hospitals and clinics were overwhelmed and many health workers were already infected.

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Reporting by Jonathan Barrett; additional reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Michael Perry

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