Nation is currently reeling through a serious COVID pandemic. Daily reported cases are touching nearly 3.0 lakhs with mounting deaths in many states. Unless 30 crore population is vaccinated by beginning of August, it may not be possible to stock pile antibodies, break the disease chain and attain herd immunity. Till the third week of April despite the vaccine shortages 12 croe population is vaccinated. However, recent emberago announced by United States administration on export of raw materials and equipment required for production can potentially stop vaccine production with two major manufacturers of Covaxin (Bharat Biotech) and Covishield( Serum Institute, Pune).
Two Indian vaccine manufacturers are producing nearly 60 million doses a month. The daily production of 20 lakh doses against the administered 36 lakh doses is the prime reason for current vaccine short fall seen across the nation. In February this year US administration has imposed export restrictions on supply of 37 essential chemical ingredients apart from special pumps and other filtration equipment to other countries. The invoked defence production act is aimed at helping American pharmaceutical industry to increase domestic vaccine production. The fact is, USA was proactive and already vaccinated nearly 25 percent of it’s adult population ahead of many other developed Western nations. Besides, USA has stockpiled sufficient stocks to vaccinate entire population.
Whereas, India is reeling under serius second wave of COVID epidemic. Apart from production of vaccines for domestic use, Indian vaccine manufactures already exported nearly 60 million doses of vaccine to 84 developing nations. Alrady India is experiencing serious shortfall in supply of vaccines. After severe criticism from opposition parties, scientists and other community groups the government has recently allocated nearly 4,500 thousand crore rupees to two major manufacturer- Serum Institute and bharat Biotech to boost the capacity of vaccine production. Recently it has been decided to vaccinate all above the age of 18 years. The nation is ambitious to produce 10 crore ( 100 million) doses a month to meet domestic as well export requirements. However, Indian vaccine production may come to a halt in a few weeks time, unless US administration lift the ban and provides free access to raw materials.
Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organisation too endorsed the prevailing raw material scarcity and added this will have serious implication in continuing global vaccination programme. She also suggested facing a huge shortage of raw material to vaccinate the global population. Dr. Swaminathan also called a meeting of UN health officials and global vaccine producers to discuss this critical issue and need for a global agreement on the exports of such material.
United states ban of Vaccine raw materials is a move to benefit multinational vaccine producing Pharma industry for sheer profits on the expense of valuable millions of lives across the globe. In view of COVID epidemic around the world the US administration should immediately withdraw the ban of export of raw mwterial and facilitate increasd production of vaccines in India and other nations.
Dr Soma Marla is a Principal Scientist, Genomics with Indian council for Agricultural Research, New Delhi.