No takers for Bharat Biotech's Covaxin as world looks for viable alternatives

While most countries want to place an order for Covishield from India, no country is known to have shown any explicit interest to buy Covaxin as of yet.

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After India approved two vaccines against Coronavirus - Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield that is being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and the indigenously manufactured Covaxin by Bharat Biotech - several other countries have expressed their interest in purchasing vaccines from India. While most countries want to place an order for Covishield, no country is known to have shown any explicit interest to buy Covaxin as of yet.

Though Nepal congratulated India for approving and manufacturing two vaccines, it has approved the emergency use of Covishield vaccine only. It has also requested an early provision of 12 million doses to immunise almost 20 percent of its population. According to Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, India and Nepal are planning to sign a Coronavirus pact.

While Bhutan has requested 1 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield from India, Myanmar has signed a purchase contract with the Serum Institute of India for Covishield. “As soon as the authorities concerned in India have issued permission to use this vaccine, we have made arrangements for the import of these vaccines into Myanmar," State Counsellor Daw AungSan Suu Kyi had said in her New Year’s address to the nation. Moreover, Bangladesh’s Beximco pharmaceuticals had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Serum Institute to procure 30 million doses of Covishield.

Afghanistan, Maldives and Sri Lanka too have requested vaccines from India, however, there’s a lack of clarity about which vaccine will be provided to these three nations.

Among the BRICS nations, Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting two million doses of Covishield vaccines. "I would appreciate being able to count on Your Excellency's good offices to anticipate the supply to Brazil, with the possible urgency and without jeopardizing the Indian vaccination program, of 2 million doses of the immunizer produced by the Serum Institute of India,” the letter said.  Moreover, South Africa’s Health Ministry has also stated that it would get 1.5 million Covishield vaccines from the Serum Institute.

Though India is facing massive demand for COVID-19 vaccines, there have been no explicit demands for Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. According to Dr Krishna Ella, Founder of Bharat Biotech, around 12-14 countries have shown interest in Covaxin, including US and UK.  However, the UK has stated no such interest in Covaxin yet. Moreover, while there were reports in December of Bharat Biotech signing a binding letter of intent with the US-based pharmaceutical firm Ocugen Inc to co-develop Covaxin, there has been no update about USA’s intent to use Covaxin. Ella has not yet disclosed the names of other countries who have explicitly shown interest in purchasing Covaxin from India.

Earlier this week, Anurag Srivastava, Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) stated that assessing production schedules and availability of the COVID-19 vaccines, and any decision on their supply to other countries “may take some time”. The statement came after Brazil’s Deputy Health Minister Elcio Franco said that his country was sending an aircraft to pick up two million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine. Meanwhile, the Union Health Ministry on Saturday asked the MEA to consider procuring 8.1 million doses of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin to send it to other countries as a goodwill gesture in the form of grant-in-aid. Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute said earlier this month that he expected overseas supplies to only start around March. He further informed that the government will enable overseas sales after first meeting India’s initial requirements.