The rollout of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, the shot much of the world is relying on to beat the pandemic, faced further complications on Thursday as India halted exports of the vaccine and Europe discussed its own export controls.
India has put a temporary hold on all major exports of the Anglo-Swedish firm’s vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker, to meet domestic demand as infections rise, two sources said.
That could delay supplies to dozens of lower-income countries also relying on SII production under the COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme backed by the World Health Organization.
“We understand that deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines to lower-income economies participating in the COVAX facility will likely face delays…,” the programme’s procurement and distributing partner UNICEF told Reuters.
India’s move comes as the European Union meets on Thursday to consider giving member states greater scope to block vaccines being exported outside the bloc, much of which is struggling to bring infections down and ramp up immunisation campaigns.
The proposal would apply to all vaccines including AstraZeneca’s, on which the EU had originally been relying to meet a goal of inoculating 70% of its adult population by this summer.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is seen as crucial in tackling the pandemic as it is cheaper and easier to transport than many rival shots.
The EU accuses the drugmaker of over-selling its vaccine and unfairly favouring Britain, where AstraZeneca developed the shot with Oxford University – a charge denied by the company.
Brussels agreed with London this week to strive for a “win-win” solution, but even if the EU resists export controls, it faces another problem: declining confidence in the AstraZeneca shot due to concerns over side-effects and efficacy data.