How India’s second wave threatens to trigger a global vaccine rush

The vaccine supply problems caused by the alarming second wave of Covid-19 in India could have “huge repercussions” because the world is so dependent on imports from the subcontinent, an expert said.

Dr Sarah Schiffling, vaccine supply chain expert at John Moores University in Liverpool, said the world was facing a ‘rush for time’ as the crisis limits production capacity and India crashes. reserve more shots.

She said The National his greatest concern was the potential effect on the global Covax program that distributes injections to developing countries.

Covax expected to receive more than 100 million doses from the Serum Institute of India between February and May, but has so far only received around 18.2 million.

Vaccine shipments to Britain were also delayed last month due to delays in India and the virus situation has worsened significantly since then.

Britain added India to its travel ban red list on Monday amid rising cases and fears over a new variant of Covid-19 that has already been detected in the UK.

British scientists are now examining whether the new variant is more contagious than others and whether it is able to escape vaccines or antibodies.

Why is India on the red list for travel to Britain?

India’s infection rate hit a new high on Tuesday, with the seven-day average reaching 233,000 new cases per day.

This figure has increased by around 275% since the start of April.

More than 1.6 million new cases have been recorded in the past week alone, along with nearly 9,500 deaths.

Adjusted for the population, India’s infection rate is even lower than in some European countries, such as France and Germany.

However, UK authorities have said there is an increased risk of importing the ‘Indian variant’ of Covid-19.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to cancel a visit to India which had already been postponed and then truncated due to the pandemic.

The travel ban will go into effect at 4 a.m. KST on Friday.

British and Irish citizens and those with right to stay in the UK will need to stay in quarantine hotels if they arrive in the UK from India.

Foreign visitors without a right of residence will not be allowed to enter Britain if they have been in India within the previous 10 days.

Which variant worries the British government?

Known as B.1.617, the variant was first detected in India and most of the cases picked up in Britain are linked to international travel.

There have been 77 confirmed cases in the UK, including 73 in England and four in Scotland.

It has also been detected in 19 other countries, including the United States, with the first samples dating back to October.

We only have a small window in which the variants become the most common

Dr Jeffrey Barrett

Scientists were still evaluating Tuesday whether the strain is more transmissible than other variants or potentially resistant to vaccines.

This means that it has the status of “variant under investigation” rather than “variant of concern”.

Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Covid-19 genomics initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said the variant had “a few mutations of potential concern.”

He said they were probably not as severe as some of the mutations seen in the British, Brazilian and South African variants of Covid-19.

“This could be because we had less time to study them, so these mutations need to be watched carefully,” he said.

It is not clear whether the new variant is the cause of the second wave of infections in India.

“It is certainly possible that there is a cause and effect relationship, but so far there have only been about 1,000 sequences released in India out of about four million cases in this wave,” said Dr. Barrett.

“So we only have a small window in which the variants become the most common and it’s not clear whether they are fully representative.”

What does this mean for the global vaccine supply?

India is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer and is sometimes described as the “pharmacy of the world”.

However, the world’s dependence on India means that global supplies risk being delayed, Dr Schiffling said.

“There has been a lot of reliance, especially in Western countries, to say that we are just going to import from India, using this vast production capacity that other countries simply do not have,” she said. declared.

“If you produce these vaccines and need them urgently, it’s obviously very difficult to say that we’re just exporting them to countries that are less affected at the moment.

“Basically it comes down to – we have mass demand, but we currently don’t have the production capacity to meet that demand anytime soon.

“So it’s going to be a rush for a while to come.”

Dr Schiffling warned that manufacturing issues could affect not only vaccine manufacturers, but also the supply of essential items such as glass vials and biological compounds.

“It just comes down to sheer ability,” she said.

“There isn’t enough for everyone in the first place, so every little hiccup in production and every change in terms of exporting – or not exporting, in the case of India now – has to. huge impact on global immunization programs. ”

Dr Schiffling said UK travel restrictions should not have a major effect as the rules for individuals are different from those for exporters.

However, she said her biggest concern was with sourcing the Covax program, which she said depended heavily on exports from India.

Covax is in talks with the Indian government to have the Serum Institute resume supply of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine.

“These are countries where many of them are already expected to not have a decent vaccination rate for years to come,” said Dr Schiffling.

“Delays in that direction will therefore have a much bigger ripple effect than delays in the UK, the EU or other countries like that.”

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