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India’s surge in Covid cases deprives UN agencies of frontline fighter in war on pandemic

India’s surge in Covid cases deprives UN agencies of frontline fighter in war on pandemic

The ”terrible surge” of coronavirus cases in India has severely impacted the WHO-led COVAX initiative to supply vaccines to poor countries as a shortfall of 190 million doses is now expected by the end of June, according to a joint statement by the WHO, UNICEF, GAVI and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

India had been spearheading the global fight against Covid-19 and had supplied vaccines to over 50 countries including its neighbours to help contain spread of the deadly disease. The sudden surge in coronavirus, has forced India to focus more on the home front to inoculate its own population.  This has come as a setback for other countries as well since they were being provided with affordable and easy to handle vaccines.

The Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), the world''s largest vaccine manufacturer, has been the key supplier of AstraZeneca doses to COVAX.

"Countries that are advanced in their vaccination programmes are seeing cases of COVID-19 decline, hospitalisations decrease and early signs of some kind of normality resume. However, the global picture is far more concerning," the UN agencies said in the statement.

The UN initiative has sought help to equip COVAX to deliver 2 billion doses in 2021. "We are seeing the traumatic effects of the terrible surge of COVID-19 in South Asia – a surge which has also severely impacted global vaccine supplies."

The global agencies called on advanced nations to share doses "now", saying the United States and Europe have collectively pledged to share 180 million doses.

"But we still need more, we need them to go through COVAX, and we need them to start moving in early June. At least one billion doses could be shared by wealthy countries in 2021, the statement adds.

COVAX has proven it works as the global mechanism for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, having delivered over 70 million doses to 126 countries and economies around the world since February – from remote islands to conflict settings – managing the largest and most complex rollout of vaccines in history. Over 35 countries received their first COVID-19 vaccine doses thanks to COVAX, the statement said.

"However, the terrible surge of the virus in India has had a severe impact on COVAX''s supply in the second quarter of this year, to the point where, by the end of June we will face a shortfall of 190 million doses," the joint statement said.

It said even though COVAX will have larger volumes available later in the year through the deals it has already secured with several manufacturers, it warned that "if we do not address the current, urgent shortfall, the consequences could be catastrophic."

"COVAX''s need for doses is greatest right now. Countries with higher coverage rates, which are due to receive doses soon, should swap their places in supply queues with COVAX so that doses can be equitably distributed as quickly as possible," it said.