India resumes vaccine exports as domestic stocks build up - officials

FILE PHOTO: Woman reacts as she receives a dose of COVISHIELD vaccine in an alley at a slum area, in Ahmedabad
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By Sanjeev Miglani

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India has resumed a small amount of exports of COVID-19 vaccines and will increase exports significantly in the next few months as domestic stocks build up and most of its own large population is inoculated, officials said on Wednesday.

One million shots of Covaxin produced by Indian company Bharat Biotech were shipped to Iran last week, the Indian embassy in Tehran said.

Vaccines have also been sent to Nepal, a government source said, adding that the effort is focused on neighbouring nations.

So far about 4 million shots have been exported, the source said, a small amount in proportion to the expansive vaccine diplomacy Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government launched this year before a second wave of infections forced a halt.

But now that three-quarters of the adult population have had one shot and a third have had both shots, India is poised to play an important role in meeting foreign nations' vaccine requirements, said V.K. Paul, who heads the government's task force on COVID-19.

"As India's needs are met, going forward there will be a generous stockpile of vaccines," Paul told reporters.

The Serum Institute is producing 220 million shots of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine per month, up from 150 million in August, and Bharat Biotech is supplying 30 million shots of its home-grown vaccine which is set to rise to 50 million next month, he said.

With a few other locally developed vaccines moving closer to production or clearing regulatory approvals, India is expected to be producing 300-320 million shots a month by early next year -- more than the average 210 million doses it administers to its people each month, the officials said.

"A huge, huge availability of vaccines can be visualised for next year, we expect vaccines made in India to play a significant role in dealing with the pandemic across the world," Paul said.

India is the world's biggest maker of vaccines. Paul said it would in the next two or three days pass the 1 billion mark for vaccine doses administered since the start of its mass campaign to vaccinate all adult Indians.

(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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