The vaccination woes of some of the world’s poorest nations will continue as the Serum Institute of India, a crucial manufacturing pillar in the plan to supply two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to low-income countries, signaled that it would not be able to provide vaccines beyond India before the year’s end.
The revelation, tucked into a statement by the vaccine manufacturing giant that attempted to deflect mounting criticism, was another setback for Covax, the global vaccine partnership for the poor. It is already more than 140 million doses behind schedule, and the Serum Institute’s announcement suggested it was all but impossible to meet the goal of two billion doses by the end of the year.
The announcement once again underscored the glaring contrast of inequality: As some of the richer nations tout levels of vaccinations that allows them to reopen their society, most of the poorer nations have barely gotten a start.
“We continue to scale up manufacturing and prioritize India,” the Serum institute of India said in the statement on Tuesday. “We also hope to start delivering to Covax and other countries by the end of this year.”
The Serum Institute’s manufacturing capacity is at the heart of Covax, run by a global alliance that includes the World Health Organization. The institute received hundreds of millions of dollars to expand its facilities and manufacture the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, licensed to it with the commitment that a large share would go to poor nations.
As part of its plan to have two billion doses by the end of the year, Covax has been counting on hundreds of millions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced by Serum Institute, as well hundreds of millions of as a second vaccine called Novavax that the company is developing.
After India’s devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, the institute diverted all its manufacturing powers to domestic needs, falling behind on commitments to the Covax partnership as well as on bilateral commercial deals with many countries. The institute played down each delay as temporary. But Tuesday’s statement makes clear it is unlikely to meet commitments before the end of the year.
So far, the Covax alliance has supplied only 65 million vaccines, spread across 124 countries, according to the World Health Organization. The W.H.O. said the global alliance was already 140 million doses behind and likely to miss another 50 million doses in June.
“Once the devastating outbreak in India recedes, we also need the Serum Institute of India to get back on track and catch up on its delivery commitments to Covax,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the chief of W.H.O.
For its part, the Serum Institute has said it’s failure in international commitments has been due to the scale of the demand in India.
But India’s vaccination drive has been slow and is facing shortages despite all of Serum’s production capacity. Vaccinating a nation of 1.4 billion was always going to be a mammoth task that has been made more difficult by the government’s mismanagement of the crisis.
India has administered about 180 million doses of vaccines. Only about 5 percent of the country’s adult population. The vaccination rate has fallen to about 1.8 million doses a day, which means it would take the country more than three years to vaccinate 80 percent of its population.