India resumes coronavirus vaccine exports to COVAX

A man displays a vial AstraZeneca's COVISHIELD vaccine as the country receives its first batch of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines under COVAX scheme, in Accra, Ghana February 24, 2021. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko

BENGALURU, Nov 26 (Reuters) - India restarted exports of COVID-19 shots to the global vaccine-sharing network COVAX on Friday for the first time since April, and producer Serum Institute of India (SII) forecast a substantial increase in supplies from early next year.

The resumption came as a new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa spooked the world and prompted some new travel curbs.

SII, the world's biggest vaccine maker, said it was able to recommence exports because it had beaten its target of producing 1 billion doses of the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine ahead of time.

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Much of that output has been used in India, which stopped exports eight months ago to inoculate its own people when infections surged.

SII has a deal to supply up to 550 million doses of the shot to COVAX, which mainly provides doses to low-income countries. So far, COVAX has received only about 30 million from SII.

SII's output of the vaccine, which it calls Covishield, has nearly quadrupled to as many as 240 million doses a month since the halt in exports.

"SII's supply of doses via COVAX is expected to increase substantially into Quarter 1, 2022," it said.

A spokesperson from GAVI, which runs the COVAX program along with the World Health Organization, said that volumes delivered would increase rapidly with the export resumption, but did not give any numbers.

SII said it had already produced more than 1.25 billion Covishield doses and was now working on expanding the output of other shots, including its licensed version of the Novavax (NVAX.O) vaccine.

The company did not say on Friday how many doses it was shipping to COVAX. A government official told Reuters last week that Covishield exports to the global platform may not exceed 10 million doses for the rest of the year. read more

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Reporting by Shivani Singh and Chris Thomas in Bengaluru and Krishna N. Das in New Delhi Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, Aditya Soni and Frances Kerry

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