India to Ship Vaccines to Neighbours from Wednesday

NEW DELHI, Jan 19: India’s immediate neighbours will start getting Covid-19 vaccine vials from Wednesday for emergency use of the frontline workers and elderly persons under the government’s “neighbourhood first” policy and maintaining cordial relations with the SAARC Countries.

Official sources said millions of doses of “Covishield” would start flowing out of India to six SAARC countries from Wednesday. Among these, Bhutan, the Maldives and Bangladesh would be among the first countries in the neighbourhood to receive Covid-19 vaccines from India as grant assistance.

The sources said 100,000 doses of the Covishield vaccine would be sent to the Maldives on Wednesday under emergency use approvals to vaccinate frontline, health workers and senior citizens. A consignment of vaccines is also expected to reach Bhutan on Wednesday.

Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said on its Facebook page the country will receive two million doses of Covishield, the Oxford-Astrazenca vaccine, from India as a “gift”. “A special flight of India carrying the consignment will land at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka [on January 21],” it said.

The external affairs ministry said supplies under grant assistance to Bhutan, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles will begin from Wednesday in line with India’s commitment to use its vaccine production and delivery capacity to help the world fight Covid-19.

The ministry said there were also plans to provide vaccines to Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius after “confirmation of necessary regulatory clearances”.

“It will be ensured that domestic manufacturers will have adequate stocks to meet domestic requirements while supplying abroad,” it added.

Alongside the supply of vaccines, a training programme covering administrative and operational aspects is being conducted on January 19 and 20 for immunisation managers, cold chain and communications officers and data managers of recipient countries.

The only country in the region unlikely to be an immediate beneficiary of India’s efforts is Pakistan, which has not made any formal request for vaccines.

Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party said on Twitter the two million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be in addition to 30 million doses that the government had a deal for with the Serum Institute of India in November.

India’s grants are part of plans to provide up to 10 million doses of both Covishield and Covaxin, the vaccine made by Bharat Biotech, to friendly countries.

Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives are among the countries in the region that have the closest ties with India and have benefited from connectivity and development projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few months.

(Manas Dasgupta)