Serum Institute pleads for COVID-19 supplies as U.S. slashes API shipments

Canada 460 China 2832 Coronavirus 493 European Union 746 Health Care 325 India 453 Mexico 816 U.S. 5064

Supply chains for COVID-19 vaccines remain complicated by international relations and medical protectionism. The World Trade Organization’s Director General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala hosted a meeting on April 14 to address equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. While the meeting brought commitments from vaccine manufacturers to increase capacity and a call to reduce medical protectionism there was not a formal deal to waive intellectual property rights for the vaccine manufacturers.

The latter is arguably a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for more rapid vaccine rollouts. Three of the five major vaccine producing states / regions (India, the EU and the U.S.) have in some way restricted exports, as discussed in Panjiva’s research of April 7, though it is worth noting that exports from the EU are now larger than the number of shots delivered within the bloc according to Bloomberg.

It’s not just vaccine export restrictions that are causing problems. The CEO of Serum Institute of India, Adar Poonawalla, has requested that the U.S. government “lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S. so that vaccine production can ramp up“, Associated Press reports. 

Limits on production and exports linked to Serum Institute could have a significant impact on exports of vaccines to emerging markets. Panjiva’s data shows Serum Institute’s exports fell by 38.7% year over year in January 2021 after dipping 1.7% lower in Q4’20. Africa accounted for the largest share of exports at 43.0% in 2020 while shipments to South Asia (Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) represented just 13.6%.

Slump in Serum Institute exports despite vaccine need

Chart segments Indian imports linked to Serum Institute by destination. Source: Panjiva

Panjiva’s data also shows that U.S. exports of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) to India dropped by 47.8% year over year in February and by 35.1% in the three months to Feb. 28. Exports to India may have been deprioritized for a variety of reasons, including the scale of counterparties given India only represented 3.1% of exports in 2020.

There appears to have been a favoring of shipments to Europe and Canada / Mexico which both saw growth of 16.0% year over year in the past three months, though growth in shipments to Europe has slowed in February while those to Canada and Mexico accelerated. There was also a 15.9% rise in shipments to China in the past three months, though shipments dropped by 28.0% in the month of February.

India, China lost out in U.S. API shipments in February

Chart segments U.S. exports of active pharmaceutical ingredients by destination. Source: Panjiva

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