Carol Paton Editor at large

The Covax vaccine initiative — a pooled arrangement to procure vaccines for a number of countries from a range of manufacturers — says that it does not expect delivery timelines to be disrupted despite a decision by the Indian government over the weekend to temporarily ban the export of the Indian-manufactured AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

The Covax initiative is the only firm commitment that SA has to gain access to a vaccine as the government has not secured orders directly with manufacturers. The Serum Institute of India, which will manufacture the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine, among others, has a major role to play in Covax with an existing agreement to supply 200-million doses.

Associated Press (AP) reported on Sunday that the institute had been barred from exporting the drug for now. The ban on exports is a condition set by the Indian medicines’ regulator, which over the weekend granted emergency authorisation for the drug on the condition that vulnerable populations in India were protected first. This was according to Adar Poonawalla, the company's CEO, in a phone interview with AP.

A spokesperson for vaccine alliance Gavi, which has put together the Covax initiative said, however, “we don’t envisage any delay to Covax’s timeframe for delivering vaccines”. Covax aims to provide equitable access to two-billion doses, mainly for poorer countries. In the case of SA, it is the only secured supply with government having paid upfront to secure a supply to inoculate 10% of the population.

The Gavi agreement with the Serum Institute was for 200-million doses — with options for up to 900-million doses more — of either the AstraZeneca or Novavax Covid-19 vaccine candidates, said a spokesperson.

These are exclusively for lower income countries supported by the Gavi Covax advanced market commitment. Our goal, supported by the government of India, remains to begin supplying doses in the first quarter of this year so that all countries can have timely and equitable access to vaccines,” they said.

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