Keeping tabs on Covid-19: India’s Covid-19 vaccine demand in crisis

With India battling a fearsome second surge of coronavirus cases, Gilead Sciences and Merck are among some of the big pharma names attempting to help India overcome vaccine supply issues

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India is battling a surge in Covid-19 cases in its second wave, currently recording a world record infection rate of 386,425 confirmed cased and 3,293 deaths per day, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A huge international aid operation has been launched with dozens of countries promising to help as hospitals and crematoriums in India become overwhelmed.

India Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla said the country was expecting more than 40 nations to aid in India’s emergency humanitarian mission against Covid-19 by providing urgently needed resources. Some of the countries to have stepped forward to help include those that India has already supplied essential pharmaceutical goods to, including hydroxychloroquine, paracetamol and remdesivir.

Who is helping in India’s Covid fight?

The US has agreed to send India 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from its own order, in addition to helping India upgrade its chemical filtration units to enable the production of 18 million more doses, reported The Economic Times.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said officials at the US Food and Drug Administration would carry out quality checks on doses before they were exported.

“Our team will share more details about our planning and who [else] will be receiving offers from here, but we are [still] in the planning process at this point in time,” she added.

US pharma giant Gilead Sciences has agreed to provide 450,000 vials of remdesivir to support the acute shortage of antiviral drugs in India, with US drugmarker Merck closely following suit to help five Indian generic drugmakers expand production and access to its experimental Covid-19 drug molnupiravir.

In addition, the Indian government is looking to procure oxygen and additional doses of remdesivir from the European Union (EU) to help hospitals deluged with patients. However, it is unclear how many doses have actually been bought by the EU after a trial conducted by WHO suggested remdesivir had little or no effect on mortality or length of hospital stays among patients with the respiratory disease, Reuters highlighted.

India has also reached out to Egypt, Uzbekistan, UAE and Bangladesh for further medical resources. Sources told The Economic Times that India’s mission with these countries was to work to facilitate the purchase of the Covid-19 drug, which remains in high demand.  

India’s Foreign Secretary Shringla said India was in touch with logistics officials in China to ensure cargo flights remain operational between the two countries.

“Sichuan Airlines, which has 10 flights a day, suspended operations and that has had an [enormous] impact on supplies,” Shringla said “We will be in touch with authorities in China to have as much of this connectivity open as possible.”

WHO says India’s Covid-19 crisis can happen anywhere if restrictions are relaxed

As Covid-19 infection rates continue to soar in India, Hans Kluge, Regional Director for Europe at WHO, issued a stark warning saying that relaxing Covid-19 measures in Europe now could spark a “perfect storm” allowing for new waves of infections to spiral, as seen in India.

“When personal protective measures are being relaxed, when there are mass gatherings, when there are more contagious variants and the vaccination coverage is still low this can create a perfect storm in any country,” Kluge said.

“It is very important to realize that the situation in India can happen anywhere. Individual and collective public health and social measures remain dominant factors in shaping the pandemic's course.”

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