India's government will not import COVID-19 vaccines itself but expects states and companies to do so, two government officials told Reuters, a decision that may slow acquisitions of shots just as a second wave of the pandemic rips through the country.
They said Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government would instead aim to support domestic vaccine makers by guaranteeing purchases from them. The government this month paid Indian vaccine makers in advance, for the first time, for supply of doses. After cases began soaring this month, Modi's government urged Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to seek permission to sell their shots in India, and he relaxed rules for them.
But the sources said New Delhi was now leaving it up to India's states and companies to sign deals with foreign drugmakers while it buys in bulk most of the output of domestic producers - the Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing the Anglo-British AstraZeneca vaccine, and Bharat Biotech, the maker of a home-grown shot.
India's new coronavirus caseload hit a record daily peak for a fifth day on Monday as countries including Britain, Germany and the United States pledged to send urgent medical aid to help tackle the crisis overwhelming its hospitals.' The worst-hit state, Maharashtra, has said it will float a global tender to import vaccines. It is the richest state in India but many poorer ones may fall behind without financial support from the federal government to buy doses from abroad.
"The situation is desperate," one of the government officials, told Reuters. "India will allow import of vaccines" by local partners of the drug companies but the federal government "won't buy".
The second government official said: "I don't think the government will be buying foreign vaccines." Both officials have direct knowledge of the matter but declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The ministries of external affairs, health and commerce did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Pfizer has said it is talking to Modi's government about vaccines. J&J has sought approval to conduct a small local trial but made no plans to market its vaccine in India. Moderna has not commented.
Under fire for his uneven handling of the world's worst COVID-19 surge, Modi has opened vaccinations for all adults from next month but supplies are already running short. India has administered nearly 140 million doses to its frontline workers and those aged above 45 years. About 118 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, which is only about a tenth of the 1.35 billion population.
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