India to resume COVID-19 vaccine exports next month

India's health ministry today said the country will resume COVID-19 vaccine exports in October, a promising supply development that comes ahead of high-level talks this week on solving vaccine inequity gaps.

In scientific developments, researchers based in Laos recently described three close relatives of SARS-CoV-2, based on sampling of bats in northern Laos.

India's announcement comes amid renewed sharing push

AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine made at India's Serum Institute was planned as a key part of the COVAX program to ensure equitable distribution to middle- and low-income countries. However, not long after shipments began to Africa in late February, a catastrophic Delta (B1617.2) variant surge swept across India, prompting the country to focus its vaccine-making capacity on its domestic needs.

At a briefing today, India's health minister, Mansukh Mandaviya, said vaccine production will likely increase in the coming weeks and that it will restart exports in October, according to the Washington Post.

India's domestic vaccine campaign has gained traction, with 60% of adults having received at least one dose. The country is the world's biggest vaccine maker.

Later this week in connection with the United Nations (UN) General Assembly meeting, world leaders will take up vaccine access issues and will also discuss steps to better prepare for the next pandemic.

On Sep 22, President Joe Biden will host a virtual COVID summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The goal is to build support from governments, philanthropy, and industry to increase vaccine supply, improve the supply of oxygen and other resources needed to battle the virus, and establish sustainable financing for responding to emerging health threats.

The summit will also rally participants around the goal of vaccinating 70% of the world by the middle of next September, a goal that aligns with targets previously set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partner organizations.

Bat study hints at earlier recombination

In a preprint study that hasn't gone through peer review, a team from Laos and partners at the Pasteur Institute identified three new family members of SARS-CoV-2 in bats in Laos.

Their findings are based on sampling of bats in caves in northern Laos. The sequences from three different Rhinolophus (horseshoe) bat species were very close to early strains of SARS-CoV-2. Researchers hypothesized that SARS-CoV-2 could have resulted from recombination of viruses from the bats, which live in the extensive limestone cave systems of South East Asia and South China.

The newly identified bat species seem to have the same potential for infecting humans as early SARS-CoV-2 strains, they wrote.

A coronavirus found in bats in China, called RaTG13, is still the closest known relative to SARS-CoV-2. The virus was identified in 2013 in bat droppings from a mining cave in China's Yunnan Province, located in southwestern China.

Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the WHO's technical lead for COVID-19, on Twitter thanked the research team for sharing the results ahead of publication, and she said better understanding of the virus can only come from rigorous science, collaboration, and sharing results without politicization.

More global headlines

  • As cases decline further in New Zealand, officials today stepped Auckland's COVID-19 restrictions down a notch from the highest level, according to Reuters. In neighboring Australia, cases in Sydney, the country's epicenter, have dropped below 1,000 a day as vaccination levels rise.

  • Singapore paused some of its reopening steps as cases started rising again—primary schools will temporarily transition to online learning, according to Reuters.

  • In China's Fujian province—where COVID-19 flare-ups are occurring in three major cities—officials in the city of Xiamen have asked residents to stay home ahead of the fall holiday travel season. Today, China's National Health Commission reported 28 new cases from the province, 16 of them from Xiamen.

  • The global total today rose to 228,904,279 cases, along with 4,697,601 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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