By Krishna N. Das
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Serum Institute of India (SII) has pledged to supply about 40 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot to the global vaccine-distribution network COVAX by year-end after resuming exports last week, COVAX co-lead GAVI told Reuters.
The Indian government said this week it was ready to "expeditiously" approve more vaccine exports to Africa to help fight the Omicron variant either through COVAX or bilaterally, while SII's output has surged.
SII last week sent some 1.4 million doses in total to Nepal and Tajikistan through COVAX. Before the Indian government stopped all vaccine exports in April to inoculate its own population, SII had shipped only around 30 million doses to COVAX.
The company has a deal to supply up to 550 million doses of the shot to COVAX, which mainly provides the vaccines to low-income countries.
A GAVI spokesperson told Reuters late on Tuesday that actual vaccine delivery from SII would depend on paperwork including liability agreements with countries. Also, the manufacturer must provide data on shelf life and other things to countries in advance for them to accept or decline supplies.
SII has now nearly quadrupled its output of the shot, which it calls Covishield, to as much as 240 million doses a month from April levels.
Two sources with knowledge of the matter said SII was keen to accelerate exports as domestic demand in India had abated. Reuters could not immediately contact an SII spokesperson for comment.
Tens of millions of Indians are either overdue their second Covishield dose or waiting for the 12-16 weeks between doses - leading to a huge vaccine stockpile in the country.
India has administered at least one vaccine dose in 84% of its 944 million adults and two doses in 48%. Vaccination for people under the age of 18 has not started.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)