(Bloomberg) -- Brazil is sending an aircraft to India to expedite the arrival of vaccines amid a second wave of infections following a request to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to release the doses for export.
The Serum Institute of India Pvt., the world’s largest producer of vaccines by volume, will supply 2 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford to Brazil, according to the nation’s Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello.
The Airbus A330neo, courtesy of airline Azul SA, will take off from Northeast Brazil on Friday evening -- a day after initially forecast -- for a 15 hour flight to Mumbai. It’s unclear when the cargo will arrive. While the ministry had said the plane was expected to land in Rio de Janeiro Saturday, on Thursday it said the return date “was still being evaluated.”
Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa is scheduled to meet on Sunday to decide whether to grant emergency use requests for the AstraZeneca/Oxford and Sinovac Biotech Ltd shots.
The Brazilian government has come under pressure to set a date to begin immunizing its 210 million people. Neighboring countries including Argentina and Mexico have begun to deploy shots weeks ago, and at home, infections are roaring back.
Serum’s Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla in an interview this month said he expected overseas supplies to only start around March, adding that the government will enable overseas sales after first meeting India’s initial requirements.
A spokesman for Serum didn’t respond to a text message seeking comment on the sale to Brazil, while an Indian foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment. India will be able to decide on exports of the vaccines within the next few weeks, foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said on Tuesday.
Poonawalla said at a conference organized by Reuters on Thursday that Serum expects to start supplying the World Health Organization’s Covax initiative -- that aims to pool vaccines for lower income countries -- by the end of January.
South Africa has also said Serum has agreed to supply it with the vaccine this month. The Pune-based company hasn’t publicly confirmed the deal with the African nation.
India hasn’t reached an agreement with Brazil on the pricing for the vaccine yet, a person with knowledge of the matter said, asking not to be identified before a public announcement.
Brazil, with more than 8 million cases, has the third-highest infections in the world and 205,000 fatalities from the virus. The rush to buy vaccine from India comes as President Jair Bolsonaro comes under pressure to begin an immunization campaign. He doesn’t plan to get a shot himself and has shown little urgency to negotiate with drug companies.
Much like in the first phase of the pandemic, Brazil’s vaccination plans have been marred by contradicting measures and political infighting. Sao Paulo, Brazil’s richest state which has sponsored Sinovac’s shot in the country, plans to start on Jan. 25.
On Wednesday, health ministry officials said vaccinations would kick off in all capitals simultaneously, between three to five days after approval by health regulator Anvisa. Hours earlier, Pazuello had said shots would go first to Manaus, which is battling a new surge of cases potentially involving a new variant of the virus that has the capital of the Northern state of Amazonas in a state of emergency.
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On Thursday afternoon, Anvisa notified Fiocruz and Butantan that there was still data missing from the emergency use requests for vaccines. The local institutes partnered with AstraZeneca and Sinovac, respectively, to produce the shots locally. Anvisa is expected to make a decision by a Monday deadline but 30% of required information is still pending.
(Updates with flight being delayed, Brazil details starting in third paragraph.)