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India first, says the Serum Institute, asks foreign countries to be patient

The Serum Institute in India is currently producing the Covishield vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. (AP photo)

New Delhi: The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker by volume, on Sunday asked for patience from foreign governments waiting to supply them with shots of Covid-19, saying it was directed to prioritize India’s requirements.

“I humbly ask you to be patient,” Adar Bunawala, CEO of SII said in a tweet, adding that the company “has been directed to prioritize the huge needs of India along with this balance to the needs of the rest of the world”.

“We are doing our best,” Bunawala said.

Headquartered in Pune, western India, the company manufactures the University of Oxford / AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of two vaccines India is using to initially immunize around 300 million people as part of its national vaccination campaign.

Many low- and middle-income countries, ranging from Bangladesh to Brazil, are dependent on the AstraZeneca SII vaccine, which is labeled Covishield from the Indian company.

But demand is growing, including from Western countries such as Canada, where Boonawala promised to introduce a Coffeeshield vaccine next month.

The UK drug regulator is also reviewing manufacturing processes at SII, which could pave the way for the Covishield vaccine to be shipped from there to the UK and other countries.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has come under fire for the slow launch of the vaccination campaign, but health authorities are preparing to significantly increase the number of vaccinations in the coming weeks.

India has vaccinated about 11 million people since mid-January.

With more than 10.9 million confirmed infections, India has the second largest number of Covid-19 cases in the world, after only the United States.

The country is currently reporting about 12,000 new infections on average per day, a fraction of its peak last September, according to a Reuters analysis.

But federal health authorities said on Sunday that they had sent a letter to some states currently experiencing an increase in cases, asking them to improve comprehensive testing, surveillance, and surveillance for Covid-19 mutations.

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