Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Thursday said that the Ministry of External Affairs is in talks with Covid-19 vaccine makers such as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna about sourcing and possibly manufacturing doses in India. The development comes as the country is trying to source more vaccines amid a shortage.

Speaking at the “South-East Asia Regional Health Partners’ Forum on Covid-19”, Shringala said the ministry also helped in expediting the introduction of Russia’s Sputnik-V vaccines in India.

India is currently using two vaccines – Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Serum Institute of India’s Covishield – to inoculate its population. India has also given emergency use authorisation to Russia’s Sputnik V.

The vaccination pace in the country is progressing at a slow pace amid a scarcity of vaccines. So far, India has administered 21,90,72,138 Covid-19 vaccine doses with 4,41,04,213 getting both the shots. This means that only about 3.1% of India’s population has been fully vaccinated since the immunisation programme began on January 16.

To boost the availability of shots, India’s drug regulator on Tuesday waived the requirement to conduct post-launch bridging trials for foreign-made coronavirus vaccines. Earlier on Thursday, the Centre also announced that it has finalised a deal with Hyderabad-based Biological-E to reserve 30 crore coronavirus vaccine doses. The vaccine is currently undergoing phase 3 clinical trials.

At the event, Shringla said that vaccines have complex supply chains. “We have worked to ease regulatory disruptions to these supply chains with key partners through diplomatic interventions,” he said, listing measures undertaken by the external affairs ministry during the pandemic.

It said the ministry played an important role in organising the “Vande Bharat” Mission, which has facilitated the movement of 70 lakh people through the lockdown and post-lockdown periods.

“MEA has acted as the global arm of the Government of India’s Empowered Group, to procure essential raw materials and medical supplies for Covid-19,” the foreign secretary said.

He said that in the first wave, the ministry launched operations to acquire ventilators, personal protective equipment kits and test kits, while during the second wave, it helped source liquid medical oxygen, cryogenic tankers and essential medicines required for the treatment of the infection.

Shringla noted that India was working with other countries in the World Trade Organization to push for a temporary waiver to ensure “timely and secure access to vaccines for all”. India and South Africa had moved a proposal on the matter in the World Trade Organization in October.

The foreign secretary said that India was also looking forward to World Health Organization’s approval for Bharat Biotech’s vaccine Covaxin.

“Every crisis, empirically speaking, is followed by growth,” Shirngla said at the event. “...We will participate fully in the international process of regeneration through building newer and more resilient supply chains, by focusing on newer technologies and knowledge-driven opportunities and leveraging India’s strengths and capacities.”

Meanwhile, India on Thursday recorded 1,34,154 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, while deaths rose by 2,887. The country’s tally of infections now stands at 2,84,41,986 since the outbreak in January 2020. The toll has reached 3,37,989.

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