Given that India is the world’s largest producer of vaccines, it is puzzling that it is running out of supplies even for its own population, let alone the developing world that depends on its factories. The reason seems to be a new SARS-CoV-2 mutant that emerged there, which must be added to the British, South African and Brazilian variants, and which also spreads faster than the standard virus. In a country of 1,400 million inhabitants, 18% of the world’s population, and with some of the most gigantic megacities on the planet, such as Bombay, a variant of the virus that has an increased ability to spread can make a good case. And that is just what has happened. Not only has the new variant caused the epidemic to spiral out of control in India, it is complicating the supply of vaccines to Africa through the Covax initiative, coordinated by the WHO. Call it the globalization of risk.
India has already accumulated 13 and a half million confirmed infections since the beginning of the pandemic, and every day it beats marks of new infections (170,000 on the 12th), which has already placed it ahead of Brazil, and only behind United States in the world count. According to local health authoritiesThere are other factors apart from the appearance of the new variant, in particular the relaxation in the use of masks, the distancing and other topics that sound familiar to us all. And then there is the bottleneck of vaccine production.
The rate of contagion has led the Government of Ram Nath Kovind to stop the exports of its flagship vaccine, Covishield, produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the largest biotechnology corporation in the country, and the largest producer of vaccines in the world
India was vaccinating at a good rate until a month ago, when it had injected 111 million people, informs Nature. That would be enough to immunize all of Spain with two doses, but in the second most populous country in the world it means only 8% of its inhabitants. In March things have seriously gone wrong. The contagion rate has led the Government of Ram Nath Kovind to stop the exports of its flagship vaccine, Covishield, produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the largest biotechnology corporation in the country, and the largest vaccine producer in the world. IBS is capable of producing 60 million monthly doses of Covishield, which is actually a clone of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The British multinational has authorized the SII to distribute 1 billion doses of Covishield to low- and middle-income countries, but the halt in exports has left 64 poor countries helpless, with only 30 million doses sold to Covax. The priority now is India’s own population.
The crisis has forced the quintessential vaccine exporting country to become a net importer. India has good contacts with Johnson & Johnson, or with its Janssen subsidiary, producer of the first single-dose vaccine. Now that the Janssen vaccine has been paralyzed in the West, India may benefit from the overzealousness of wealthy societies. It will also use Sputnik, the Russian vaccine. Most of the world cannot afford our squeamishness.