As India crosses a cumulative Covid-19 vaccination coverage of 91 crore doses, with 75 lakh doses administered in the last 24 hours, the Central government has restricted export of syringes, which are vital to administer the vaccine. The quantum of the restriction, as well as its nature, is not clear yet. Syringe makers allege the government had to resort to export restrictions because of inadequate planning, despite several reminders from the industry to ensure sufficient stockpile of syringes as the pace of vaccination was expected to increase gradually.

India exports over one billion units of syringes and syringes and needles annually. After the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the syringe and needle manufacturers had cumulatively offered an uncommitted spare capacity to produce over 350 million syringes every month to help government's Covid-19 vaccination programme. With daily vaccination increasing significantly in the last few weeks, even full utilisation of existing spare capacity may not ensure adequate syringe supplies.

In a notification on October 4, the commerce ministry has said that export of syringes with or without needle has been put under the 'restricted' category with immediate effect. The procedure for submission and approval of export applications will be notified separately.

"We had foreseen this and sought pre-emptive action in April last year but government responded only in October 2020. Not one coordination meeting has taken place between vaccine manufacturers, government of India and syringe and needle manufacturers to create a balance between demand and supply. Timely support for capacity creation such as putting Covid critical medical devices under the Production Linked Incentive Scheme was not done. Now, business commitments will need to be dishonoured and credibility painstakingly built over the years, and India’s reputation as a dependable supplier, will be at stake," says Rajiv Nath, forum coordinator of the Association of Indian Medical Device Industry.

The industry spokesperson says vaccine availability in India now surpasses the production rate of AD (auto disposable) syringes and buffer stocks to stockpile are inadequate. “The supply chain management is currently challenged temporarily due to peak seasonal spike in demand of standard disposable syringes for Dengue, Typhoid, etc, which will ease by mid-November. As of now, it’s important to focus on non-Covid care as priority one and then vaccination preventive care and then exports, but turning off the tap suddenly is disruptive," says Nath.

According to him, the government should ensure that the restrictions do not apply to non-Covid size insulin syringes, 5ml and larger syringes or 0.3 ml AD syringes developed for Pfizer (which can’t be used in India). He says at least 50 per cent of the quantity shipped to a country in Oct-Jan last year should be allowed to be exported. The industry wants the government to give a clear picture of India’s quarterly syringe needs for calendar year 2022 to avoid such disruptions.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube & Instagram to never miss an update from Fortune India. To buy a copy, visit Amazon.