Addressing the WHO’s Southeast Asia regional health partners’ forum on Covid-19, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla also said the government has taken several steps to speed up domestic manufacturing of vaccines

India is in talks with pharmaceutical giants Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson about sourcing, and possible local manufacture of their Covid-19 vaccines even as it awaits WHO approval for the indigenous Covaxin vaccine, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said on Thursday.

Addressing the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Southeast Asia regional health partners’ forum on Covid-19, Shringla said the government has taken several steps to speed up domestic manufacturing of vaccines such as easing “regulatory disruptions” of supply chains for raw materials and components.

With the pandemic well into its second year, India is “fighting an exceptionally severe second wave”, and the country has “lived through a series of extraordinary stresses and shocks” while dealing with “unprecedented economic and social disruptions”, he said.

Listing the steps taken by the government to overcome the impacts of the pandemic, Shringla said: “We are also part of the discussions with major vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna about sourcing and possible local manufacturing of their vaccines in India. We have also helped to expedite the introduction of Sputnik-V vaccines.”

He added, “We are also looking forward to WHO’s approval for India’s indigenous vaccine manufactured by Bharat Biotech.”

Noting that the manufacture of vaccines is dependent on complex supply chains, he said: “We have worked to ease regulatory disruptions to these supply chains with key partners through diplomatic interventions.”

India is also working with other countries in the World Trade Organization (WTO) on a “targeted and temporary waiver under TRIPS to ensure timely and secure access to vaccines for all,” he said.

South Africa and India have proposed a temporary waiver of patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines and the move has been backed by the US, China, Russia and several other countries and groupings such as Brazil-Russia-China-India-South Africa (Brics). Experts have, however, said negotiations on the issue could take months or even years while the transfer of technology to make the vaccines too is a lengthy process.

Despite temporarily putting vaccine exports on hold in March, India’s vaccination programme has been hit by a shortage of vaccines and the government has ramped up efforts to both buy doses from abroad and increase domestic production. The government has sought help from the US in increasing access to raw materials and components needed for making vaccines and is also hoping to benefit from the Biden administration’s plans to distribute 80 million surplus doses to countries around the world.

For India to meet its target of vaccinating its entire adult population by the end of 2021, the country needs to administer a total of 1.88 billion doses, of which 1.67 billion or 89% are yet to be administered. This means India needs to deliver 238 million doses a month from June or it risks falling behind the target, data analysed by HT shows.

Till May 31, India had administered more than 215 million doses, the third highest number of total doses delivered in any country, behind only China and the US.

Shringla said India had rapidly adapted to virtual diplomacy amid the pandemic and the prime minister conducted more than 12 virtual summits and more than 75 virtual bilateral meetings. The external affairs minister and the ministry had conducted hundreds of ministerial, joint commission and senior officials’ meetings, multilateral engagements, and foreign office consultations.

“Going forward, we will participate in the process of creating global scale capacities that are needed to deal with pandemic-scale challenges. A number of serious global conversations are underway on this in platforms such as the G7, the G20, Quad, Brics, the United Nations and the WHO itself,” he said.