India has started shipping out millions of doses of Covishield free of cost. On the list are 13 nations -- Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Bahrain, Brazil, Mauritius, Morocco, Oman, Seychelles and Sri Lanka. But while the move improves the country's standing internationally, there are questions why the government is not allowing the sale of the vaccine in private markets.
Several leading health and pharma experts such as Kiran Mazumdar Shaw has appealed to the government to allow private players to roll out the drug as well, since capacity is not a problem in India and all government targets are being met.
"We need to vaccinate 2m per day n unless private hospitals start vaccinating general population we will struggle to keep pace with vaccine production which far outweighs utilisation. Unlike other countries we don't have shortage of supplies," she tweeted.
For now, the government is reluctant to allow the public release of the vaccines.
"Prioritisation is a must in this process and all nations are following it," explained Dr VK Paul of Niti Aayog. "If you are healthy and below 50 years of age, you please wait and let those citizens who need it more get it... in the spirit of public health response, in the spirit of our societal responsibility," he added.
Pointing to the country's priority list, announced way ahead of the vaccine rollout earlier this month, he said, "In the first seven to eight months, we are focused on the 30 crore people, about which we have talked quite often and we know who those people are, who are the needier".
Currently the vaccine is being administered to one crore healthcare workers and two crore frontline workers. Next on list are 27 crore people who are particularly vulnerable to the disease - people above the age of 50 years and those with co-morbidities.
India is the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, ahead of even China. The Pune-based Serum Institute currently manufactures of 5,000 doses of Covishield per minute, which adds up to 50 million doses per month. By the end of March, this figure will go up by 30 per cent -- which translates to 65 million doses.
At the moment, the government has procured 11 million doses to vaccinate priority groups and meet export commitments. Another 50 million doses remain in stock.
A chunk of this is now being exported to countries like Brazil, Morocco, South Africa and Saudi Arabia commercially. The export is happening to ensure that the precious vaccine, which has a life span of six months, does not expire. The current stock will start expiring from March.