COVAX announces vaccine delivery delays from Serum Institute of India and AstraZeneca

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Empty COVISHIELD vials, manufactured by Serum Institute of India, are seen at a vaccination center in Guwahati, India, on March 22. Photo courtesy: David Talukdar/NurPhoto via Getty Images

(CNN) - Deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII) to countries participating in the COVAX program will be delayed during March and April, Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, announced in a news release on Thursday.

COVAX is a global vaccine-sharing initiative aimed at reducing vaccine inequality with discounted or free doses for lower-income countries.

The news release cited the government of India’s battle with a new wave of COVID-19 infections as the reason for the delay. On Wednesday, India's Ministry of Health announced it had discovered a new "double mutant" variant of COVID-19, as the country struggles to contain a spike in cases that's raising fears of a second wave.

“COVAX and the Government of India remain in discussions to ensure some supplies are completed during March and April,” the release said.

Gavi said according to its agreement with SII it is “contracted to provide COVAX with the SII-licensed and manufactured AstraZeneca (AZ)-Oxford vaccine (known as COVISHIELD) to over 60 lower-income economies participating in the Gavi COVAX AMC (including India), alongside its commitments to the Government of India.”

“To date, COVAX has been supplied with 28 million COVISHIELD doses and was expecting an additional 40 million doses to be available in March, and up to 50 million doses in April,” the release said.

Economies participating in the COVAX facility that have been allocated AstraZeneca-manufactured doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine have also been informed that some of the first deliveries due in March are now set to take place in April, Gavi said.

Remember: COVAX, which is run by a coalition including Gavi and the World Health Organization, uses donations from governments and multilateral institutions to buy vaccines for poorer nations that can't afford contracts with major drug companies.

The program has secured vaccines from AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and the Serum Institute of India, with hopes of additional doses from companies currently working to get regulatory approvals. But getting enough supplies has been difficult, in part because wealthier countries ordered more than they need.

The SII not only produces most of the vaccines for India – it is also responsible for many of the vaccines distributed to the rest of the world. In September last year, SII pledged to manufacture and deliver 200 million doses for COVAX. But SII has had to halt or delay its exports several times in recent months as global and domestic demand surged.

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