The crisis in India may lead to vaccine scarcity

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‘The current crisis in India can quickly turn into a global vaccine disaster. India is one of the largest vaccine producers in the world, and many low- and middle-income countries depend on it for vaccine deliveries. This shows with tragic clarity that we must combat the pandemic at the global level,’ said Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein.

India is one of the world’s foremost vaccine producers, and is a major supplier to the Covax Facility global distribution mechanism. If the crisis in India continues, vaccine deliveries to other countries could be cut in half or delayed. This could have an enormous impact on the spread of the pandemic globally, with the potential for large-scale new outbreaks in countries with limited hospital capacity.

‘Vaccines are the best means to stop the pandemic. Only 9 % of India’s 1.38 billion inhabitants have received their first Covid-19 vaccine dose, in a country that manufactures its own vaccines. At the same time, other countries have ordered enough vaccines to vaccinate their own populations several times over. This is a reminder of the need to strengthen vaccine production capacity and ensure more equitable distribution,’ said Mr Ulstein.

India is currently registering approximately 300.000 new cases of Covid-19 daily among its 1.38 billion inhabitants. There has been chronic underinvestment in the national health services over a long period. Among other things, the Indian health system lacks enough oxygen to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. The ACT-Accelerator, which is co-chaired by Norway and South Africa, has now launched a Covid-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce, which will work to ensure access to oxygen supplies for medical use for low-income countries.

‘The images from India are heart-wrenching. The fact that people are lining up to try to get oxygen for their sick relatives illustrates the double impact of crises such as this when they develop in countries where the health service is already buckling. Oxygen can mean the difference between life and death for a Covid-19 patient. Yet oxygen is precisely what they don’t have enough of in far too many low- and middle-income countries. As a result, people are dying who might otherwise have been saved,’ said Mr Ulstein.

The Covid-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce consists of several stakeholder organisations, including Unitaid and the Global Fund. Norway has invested NOK 350 million in Unitaid’s Covid-19 response, of which NOK 200 million has been earmarked for diagnostics and NOK 150 million for treatments. Norway has also invested NOK 285.5 million in the Global Fund’s Covid-19 Response Mechanism. The Fund has provided almost USD 11 million in funding for purchasing oxygen products.

The Taskforce is also a response to the call from G7 member states for a greater focus on medical oxygen supplies. The reason behind this is that treatment of Covid-19 with a combination of dexamethasone and tocilizumab together with oxygen has been found to reduce mortality. 

‘The pandemic is like a blaze that must be extinguished from all sides. We need to secure more vaccines, tests and personal protection equipment. At the same time, we must ensure that there are enough medicines and oxygen to save those who are sick. This is not the time to let down our guard  – we must continue working to ensure that the pandemic is combated at the global level,’ said Mr Ulstein.

Press contact: Tuva Bogsnes, tuva.bogsnes@mfa.no mob.: (+47) 93 23 18 83.