India Boasts of Vaccine Exports While Denying Shots to Some Residents

People wait in observation room to receive a dose of the Covishield, AstraZeneca-Oxford's Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination centre during a weekend lockdown imposed by the state government amidst rising Covid-19 coronavirus cases, in Mumbai on April 10, 2021. (Photo by Sujit Jaiswal / AFP) (Photo by SUJIT JAISWAL/AFP …
SUJIT JAISWAL/AFP via Getty Images

India boasted on Tuesday of having exported Chinese coronavirus vaccines to more than 80 countries in recent months, despite New Delhi’s ongoing struggle to adequately vaccinate its domestic population.

“[T]his year despite many constraints, we have supplied vaccine[s] to over 80 countries,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a speech April 13.

“During this pandemic, in our own humble way, within our own limited resources, we in India have tried to walk the talk. We have tried to protect our own 1.3 billion citizens from the pandemic. At the same time, we have also tried to support the pandemic response efforts of others,” he said.

New Delhi’s effort to ship Chinese coronavirus vaccines to foreign countries has been met with criticism from domestic media outlets in recent days, as India has failed to provide its own citizens with sufficient doses of the same vaccines.

Residents of the northeastern Indian state of Assam have recently been turned away from receiving their second dose of a Chinese coronavirus vaccine at state clinics because of insufficient vaccine supplies, the Times of India reported Wednesday.

“My wife and I got our first dose on March 15 at a government hospital in Doomdooma. Both of us went for our second shot of Covishield today, but the hospital staff told us to come next Monday,” Johar Choudhury, a resident of Doomdooma in Assam, told the Times on April 14. Covishield is an Indian-made coronavirus vaccine candidate.

Assam state immunization spokesman Munindra Nath Ngatey denied reports on Wednesday that Assam health officials have ordered state clinics to stop administering the first dose of coronavirus vaccines until vaccine stocks are replenished.

“There is no official order to take any such drastic step,” he told the Times.

“Wherever possible, the first dose is also being administered. But the instruction from the highest level in the state health department is that second-dose vaccination must not come to a halt,” Ngatey said.

Despite Ngatey’s denials, the immunization officer for upper Assam’s Dibrugarh district on April 9 “asked private hospitals to stop administering the [coronavirus] vaccine to anyone coming for their first dose,” according to the Times of India.

The official issued the order “without authorization” and state authorities have since served a notice for the action, Assam’s joint director of health services, Krishna Kemprai, told the Times this week.

On January 4, New Delhi approved two coronavirus vaccine candidates for emergency use: Covaxin, produced by the Indian company Bharat Biotech, and an option developed by Oxford University and the U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, called Covishield, which is currently manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.

Prime Minister Modi endorsed Covaxin before it had completed late-stage clinical trials. He received his first dose of Covaxin on February 28 and his second dose on April 7, tweeting photos of his inoculation at a federal hospital both times. Bharat Biotech released final stage clinical data on Covaxin’s efficacy rate and safety on March 3, indicating the shot to be 81 percent effective against the Chinese coronavirus.

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