The international scheme to ensure equal access to Covid-19 vaccines is 140 million doses short because of India’s continuing Covid crisis.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), the largest single supplier to the Covax scheme, has made none of its planned shipments since exports were suspended in March.
The UN children’s agency Unicef buys and distributes vaccines for Covax. It is urging leaders of G7 nations and EU states to share their doses. They are due to meet in the UK next month.
UNICEF says data it has commissioned suggests that together this group of countries could donate around 153 million doses, while still meeting their commitments to vaccinate their own populations.
The SII was due to supply around half of the two billion vaccines for Covax this year but there were no shipments for March, April or May. The shortfall is expected to rise to 190 million doses by the end of June.
“Unfortunately, we’re in a situation where we just don’t know when the next set of doses will materialise,” said Gian Gandhi, UNICEF’s Covax co-ordinator for supply.
“Our hope is, things will get back on track, but the situation in India is uncertain… and a huge concern.”
In February British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to donate most of the UK’s surplus supply to poorer countries but he has so far given no specific timescale. It is a similar story for the US. So far France is the only G7 country to donate doses in view of the crisis in India.
France has pledged half a million doses by mid-June while Belgium has promised 100,000 from its domestic supply in the coming weeks.
Spain, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates are some of the very few others pledging to share their supplies now.
There are grave concerns that events in India could play out in other countries too – both near and far from the region.
Countries in Africa are some of the most reliant on doses through the Covax scheme. Nations including Rwanda, Senegal and Ghana are already using some of their last remaining doses, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“We really do sympathise with the situation in India,” said Dr Richard Mihigo, who heads up the immunisation and vaccine development programme for the WHO in Africa. “Most of our [18 million] Covax doses so far have come from India.
“I think it’s very important [to keep] the global promise of solidarity for those countries that have enough vaccines – to distribute and share them because unless we stop the transmission everywhere, it will be very difficult to end this pandemic, even in places where people have been fully vaccinated.”