Pune-based vaccine manufacturer Serum Institute of India (SII) on Friday resumed exporting Covishield vaccine doses to COVAX, a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.

The first vaccine consignment left Pune on Friday for distribution to low and middle-income countries via the COVAX mechanism. SII's supply of doses via COVAX is expected to increase substantially into Q1, 2022, said a statement from SII.

The resumption of exports is linked to SII surpassing its original target to produce 1 billion doses of Covidshield by the end of this year. SII has reached this milestone ahead of time via rapid expansion of production capacity at its site in Pune, the statement said.

Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India, said, "I want to thank our workforce for their superhuman efforts in achieving this major milestone, with 1 billion doses of Covidshield now produced by SII. We started to invest at-risk in Covid-19 vaccine production back in March 2020, and our colleagues have worked tirelessly ever since to get these life-saving doses to the people.

"It's a huge moment to begin exports again, for us, our partners at COVAX and the low and middle-income countries we support. The world has largely depended on the low-cost, high-quality pharmaceuticals and vaccines that India has traditionally exported, so we are delighted to support the global vaccination effort once more."

"The resumption of supplies from SII is an important development for COVAX as it enters its busiest period yet for shipping vaccines to the participating economies. While COVAX's portfolio is now much more diversified than it was earlier this year when we received our first SII deliveries, Covishield remains an important product, which has the potential to help us protect hundreds of millions of people in the months ahead," Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the vaccine alliance which leads the COVAX facility, said.

In a key development, the Government of India earlier this week gave its nod to export the Covid vaccine to COVAX. Accoring to a source, the government has allowed SII to export 50 lakh Covishield doses under the UN-backed COVAX global vaccine programme to Nepal, Tajikistan and Mozambique, official sources said.

In addition to these three countries, SII will also export Covishield to Bangladesh under COVAX.

According to the source, the Union government has allowed the commercial export of both vaccines - Covishield and Covaxin - in view of sufficient stock of the vaccines available with the states and Union Territories, and also with the manufacturers.

As on Friday morning, over 20.70 crore balance and unutilised Covid vaccine doses are still available with the states and UTs to be administered.

COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO. India stopped vaccine exports in April this year amid the second wave of the pandemic in order to vaccinate its own population first.