(Bloomberg) -- India will likely restart Covid-19 vaccine exports to the Covax global sharing body by the end of this month or early November, the head of the world’s largest vaccine maker said, citing increased production and a build up of stockpiles after the country crossed a key milestone in its immunization campaign.

Initially only “very small volumes” of about 20 million doses a month would probably be sent out until the end of the year, said Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer at the Serum Institute of India Ltd., which is locally manufacturing AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine.

Exports could rise “significantly” from January if India hits vaccination targets and other local manufacturers manage to scale up, he said in an interview Thursday. In recent weeks India has started sending out a few million doses to neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Iran.

Poonawalla’s comments come as India celebrated the administration of one billion vaccine doses on Thursday after a stuttering start to its inoculation drive. The country has provided about 70% of its adults with one dose and fully vaccinated 30%, leading to increasing pressure on New Delhi to restart shipments halted in April after a brutal second wave of infections devastated the country. 

‘Go Slowly’

Early into the pandemic Covax -- the World Health Organization-backed distribution body supplying the world’s poorest nations -- was counting on India and its huge vaccine industry to be a primary provider. 

“Covax is largely dependent on Serum and we’re hoping to get back on that,” Poonawalla said. “But we have to go slowly because we need to satisfy the needs of our country in parallel,” he said, declining to comment on whether India will hit a target to fully vaccinate all of its adult citizens by the end of the year.

Poonawalla downplayed a report from Reuters this week that said India’s government had delayed exports to Covax, a day after the WHO said on Monday that it “cannot cut corners” to grant emergency approval to Covaxin, a home-grown shot co-developed by the government’s health agency. 

The WHO has for months scrutinized data provided by Covaxin’s manufacturer Bharat Biotech International Ltd. On Monday, the agency said it was waiting for an extra piece of information from the firm. The next day Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, discussed the resumption of Serum’s exports to Covax, as well as Covaxin’s emergency use application, with India’s health minister.

“I’m sure they will approve the other Indian vaccine manufacturers, but it’s a process,” Poonawalla said. “Of course that has nothing to do with the export restrictions, there’s no correlation.”

After earlier struggles to ramp up production as a second Covid wave battered India, Poonawalla said Serum, thanks to government support, had now managed to boost monthly output to 220 million doses as of October, doubling its annual capacity to 2 billion. 

Serum, closely owned by Poonawalla’s billionaire family, now expects to launch Novavax Inc.’s Covid vaccine and Russia’s Sputnik Light in India around December or January.

‘Turbulent Time’

“We were going through a turbulent time,” Poonawalla said. Now “we can export that much more to Covax and other countries because we have a bigger pie to satisfy India and other countries, including when India eventually wants a booster dose, if at all.”

That said, Serum’s chief didn’t expect India to authorize booster shots until mid-2022. Even though some countries have started deploying them as antibody levels wane, Poonawalla said he didn’t believe they were needed, particularly among the healthy.

“Quite frankly the science doesn’t require it, the science has said two doses does give you good protection,” Poonawalla added. “Ethically, I’ve said there’s no need to give a booster until we vaccinate the rest of humanity with two doses.”

(Updates with CEO comments from third paragraph onward.)

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