India will begin exporting locally made coronavirus vaccines within a fortnight of their domestic launch, a foreign ministry official has told the BBC.
The official dismissed reports that India would ban exports of vaccines it is producing in order to meet local demand as it plans one of the world’s biggest inoculation programmes, seeking to immunise about 300 million people by July.
India makes about 60% of vaccines used globally and many countries are eagerly waiting for it to begin shipping doses.
The country’s drugs regulator has given the green light to two vaccines: one developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University (Covishield) and one by local firm Bharat Biotech (Covaxin).
The foreign ministry official confirmed that India’s plan to help other countries was on track.
“Within a fortnight of the rollout of the vaccines we will allow exports to some of our South Asian neighbours. India is completely conscious of its commitments to neighbours and the rest of the world as the world’s biggest vaccine maker.”
Federal Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan told reporters in Delhi that India plans to roll out Covid-19 vaccines by the middle of this month.
The CEO of the Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in India, also sought to clarify the confusion over exports.
Adar Poonawalla had been quoted in the media as saying that India would not allow exports of his vaccine for “several months”. He had told the Associated Press that his company has been barred from exporting the vaccine and selling it in the private market.
But on Tuesday he told the BBC his firm was allowed to export the vaccine for government immunisation programmes abroad, and expects to deliver on agreements with Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Morocco in the next few weeks.
Bangladesh has already ordered 30 million doses of the vaccine in the first phase, Reuters reported. The country’s health secretary told local media in December that it expected the first batch of the jab by February.
Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech have a combined stockpile of more than 70 million doses of vaccines and will scale up production enormously to meet the rising demand.
On Tuesday, the two vaccine makers released a joint statement saying both the companies would provide “global access for our Covid-19 vaccines”.