India says it can increase its production of Covid-19 vaccines to 500 million per month for export, as it fields interest from the U.K., Belgium, and countries across the Middle East and Africa seeking access to cheaper inoculations.
The South Asian nation can boost its production on expectations that vaccine demand will rise by the end of this week, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified as talks are still in progress. South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria are among African nations in talks for supplies, they said.
New Delhi on Wednesday began shipping out vaccines to six neighboring countries — Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Maldives and Seychelles — and is waiting for regulatory clearances from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius to send out the shots, the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement Tuesday. The ministry’s spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The vaccines sent across its neighborhood are all grant assistance and will cover health-care providers, frontline workers and the most vulnerable in the South Asian nations, it said. Letters of intent for more countries are expected on Wednesday.
More countries from Europe have shown an interest in procuring vaccines produced in India given the $35 average cost of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE and Moderna shots, according to officials. The Serum Institute of India Pvt., the world’s largest producer of vaccines by volume, can ship out the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford priced between $5-10 per dose.
Serum can currently push out 65 million Covid shots a month but has the capability to increase that to 100 million doses, an official at the Pune-based company said, asking not be named because the information was private. It expects the government to place orders for deliveries to Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka later Wednesday.
But even nations that have ordered the 20 million doses to be shipped out to India’s immediate neighborhood and in the Middle East, are waiting until the end of this week for data on the adverse effects of Serum’s Covishield vaccines that India has begun to administer to its people before placing final orders, according to the officials.
India has also granted early use license to local firm Bharat Biotech International Ltd’s Covaxin shot even though it has yet to clear final-stage trials. So far all the shipments out of India have been the Serum vaccine candidate, the officials said, adding that the final demand for both vaccines will depend on their safety data.
India, the world’s second-worst virus-hit nation with over 10.5 million infections, kicked off the world’s largest inoculation drive on Saturday. Of the 674,835 people vaccinated across the country by Wednesday, nine people have required hospitalization for adverse effects, according to government data.
India is also preparing to fulfill a shipment to Brazil, which was delayed last week, the people said. The South American nation is among a handful of countries that have received personal assurances from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on vaccine supplies, they said.