By Aftab Ahmed
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's government has approved a 45.67-billion-rupee ($610 million) grant for COVID-19 vaccine makers Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech to boost production capacity as infections spread at record speed, its finance minister said.
Of the total, SII, the world's biggest maker of vaccines including the AstraZeneca shot, will get 30 billion rupees ($400 million), Nirmala Sitharaman told news channel CNBC-TV18 on Monday.
The central government is struggling to meet demand from many states for the vaccine amid an exponential increase in coronavirus cases around the country of 1.3 billion people.
India has administered more than 112 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot so far, the most in the world, despite concerns about some people overseas developing blood clots after receiving the vaccine.
SII sought the funds to increase its monthly capacity to more than 100 million doses by the end of May, from up to 70 million currently.
"We are clear that we will give whatever support is necessary to develop and boost the availability of vaccines in the country," a government source said, declining to be named as he was not authorised to speak publicly on the matter.
Given the surge in domestic demand, any funding from the government is unlikely to help alleviate a slump in vaccine exports. India has delayed big shipments this month, exporting only about 2 million doses compared with 64 million doses between late January and March.
SII, which will soon also start making the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine as well, did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. Bharat Biotech did not immediately respond outside business hours.
Since starting its immunisation campaign in mid-January, India has injected a total of 123 million vaccine doses, including nearly 11 million of a domestically developed shot known as Covaxin.
The government is also trying to boost output of Covaxin and has changed rules to fast-track imports of vaccines developed by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson.
($1 = 74.8600 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Aftab Ahmed; Additional reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Mark Heinrich)