Russia signed a deal with the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer to boost annual production of Sputnik V coronavirus shots by 300 million doses in India, as the South Asian nation struggles with supplies.
The Serum Institute of India Ltd., which is already producing AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine, aims to deliver its first batch of Sputnik V by September, the company and the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund, which backed the vaccine’s development and is in charge of its foreign sales, said in a joint statement Tuesday.
Supplies of Sputnik V in India have been slow to reach the market, despite agreements with half a dozen local manufacturers to produce more than 850 million doses in the country annually. Indian distributor Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd., which planned a commercial deployment of the Russian shots in mid-June, has delayed it due to a lack of the second component in the two-shot vaccine, Reuters reported Monday.
“Dr Reddy’s will strengthen the commercial rollout of Sputnik V in the coming weeks,” the company said in a statement. A spokesperson didn’t respond to questions on the reported second-dose shortfall.
Serum, which was supposed to be a top supplier to a World Health Organization-backed initiative to provide Covid-19 vaccines to developing nations, has also fallen short on its delivery promises and been dogged by numerous setbacks, including an Indian government halt on exports and a factory fire that hampered its ability to fill orders.
“This strategic partnership is a major step to substantially increase our production capabilities,” RDIF’s Chief Executive Officer Kirill Dmitriev said in the statement.
A number of foreign clients, from Argentina and Mexico to the Philippines, have complained of difficulties in getting the second dose of Sputnik V. This month, the RDIF said the gap between the two shots can be extended to as much as 180 days and still be effective.
Russian demand for the vaccine, widely available since early in the year, was initially slow due to public skepticism but has increased after a number of regions introduced mandatory vaccinations starting in June.
RDIF is relying on India, China and South Korea as production centers for its global ambitions, although much of the output is not expected to begin until later this year.
Serum, owned by the billionaire race-horse breeding Poonawalla family, has been building up its manufacturing capacities, boosting production from 50 million Covid-19 doses in January to about 90 million in June, Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla said last month. Along with the AstraZeneca and Sputnik V deals, Serum has also started producing Novavax Inc.’s vaccine ahead of an anticipated regulatory nod.
Yet with only 5.3% of India’s massive population fully inoculated, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker, Poonawalla said in May that India would only likely begin exports at the end of the year.
India has only recently emerged from a brutal second wave of infections and is facing considerable hesitancy and logistical hurdles in its attempts to vaccinate much of the impoverished countryside, where more than two-thirds of the population lives with limited access to health services.