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Working with AstraZeneca, SII and India to restart vaccine shipments: WHO official

‘Countries had to suspend the roll-out of their second doses’

The World Health Organization (WHO) is “urgently” trying to work with AstraZeneca, the Serum Institute of India (SII) as well as the Indian government to restart shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to countries that had to suspend the roll-out of the second dose amid a disruption in supplies, a senior official at the UN health agency said.

“We have a huge number of countries that had to suspend the roll-out of their second doses of vaccines,” Bruce Aylward, Senior Adviser to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Friday at a press briefing.

“Over 30 or 40 countries could have been targeted for the second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines… [but they] will not be able to do that,” Mr. Aylward said.

“We are now urgently trying to work with AstraZeneca, as well as SII and the India government, to restart these shipments so that we can get those second doses into the populations… We are running into a longer interval than we would have liked,” he said.

Mr. Aylward added that several countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, West Asia and South Asia, have been hit hard by the disruption.

“Some countries were particularly hit hard, including those that surround India like Nepal, Sri Lanka and others who suffered a severe wave of the disease. We are desperately trying to access doses. We’ve had quite a substantial problem related to this,” he said.

Earlier this month, Mr. Aylward had said about 80 million (eight crore) doses had been distributed through COVAX, a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. But the alliance was about 200 million (20 crore) doses behind where it should have been due to the disruption in supplies as a result of the devastating second wave of COVID-19 in India.

“The problem now is that the supplies are being interrupted. We are having disruptions because of the problems in India and others, and are having trouble filling that gap. As a result, countries are having trouble getting the momentum and starting well,” Mr. Aylward said.

He added that supplies out of India were interrupted because of the need to redirect them there amid the surging second wave.

He noted that the donation of vaccines was a “short-term” solution in the face of a very imperfect market and those countries that had financial resources and were producing the products had access to vaccines. “That is what we are trying to change, particularly in this period from June through September,” he said.

Mr. Aylward also said WHO had expected SII volumes to open up again in the fourth quarter. “We’re setting up for failure if we don’t get early doses,” he had said.

SII, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, is the key supplier of AstraZeneca doses to COVAX. However, the supply of vaccines from SII to COVAX had been impacted due to the second wave in India.

Last month, Mr. Ghebreyesus had said once the devastating outbreak in India receded, “We also need SII to get back on track and catch up on its delivery commitments to COVAX”.

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