Reuters: The UK government announced on Tuesday that it will receive 10 million doses of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine that is developed by the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume, the Serum Institute of India, along with Oxford University, for dozens of poor and middle-income countries.
Reuters reported in February that Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was auditing the manufacturing processes at SII to pave the way for the AstraZeneca vaccine to be shipped from there to the UK.
Although this may ignite a controversy that wealthy Western countries are procuring vaccine doses at the expense of poor countries. Alain Alsalhani, Vaccines and Special Projects Pharmacist with NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres, said he was worried about potential delays. “This announcement is a concern as we were under the impression that AstraZeneca would manufacture doses for the UK and Europe in Britain and in the European Union,” he said. “If SII exports doses to Europe, we can genuinely ask ourselves if AZ and SII delivery timelines to the COVAX mechanism in the first half are not going to be subject to delays.”
According to an official data, Britain has been ahead at inoculating people, with nearly 20.5 million residents receiving the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine so far. Separately, the European Union’s drug regulator is auditing the manufacturing site of SII, Reuters reported on Monday. AstraZeneca has committed to delivering 180 million doses in the second quarter to the EU.
Dozens of low-middle-income countries ranging from Bangladesh to Brazil are dependent on SII’s AstraZeneca, branded Covishield but demand has been growing in western countries.
SII is also providing doses to the COVAX programme backed by the World Health Organization and GAVI vaccine alliance. The UK government said the agreement follows assurances from the SII that providing doses to the UK would not impact its commitment to provide vaccines to poorer countries.
Italian non-governmental organisation Emergency remained concerned, however: “The acquisition by the UK is just another example of how the countries with the highest incomes continue to enjoy privileges at the expense of the poorest ones.”