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New Delhi: First supplies of vaccines to combat the covid-19 pandemic from India will be sent to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles from 20 January, the Indian foreign ministry said on Tuesday, with consignments to Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius to commence after regulatory clearances from these countries come in.

The move, which comes within days of India beginning its own immunization programme, underlines India’s primacy in the South Asia region besides reinforce its image as being “the pharmacy" of the world. India is seen as one of the largest manufacturers of vaccines and generic drugs in the world.

The Indian government will also conduct a training programme, covering administrative and operational aspects for two days for those involved in the immunization process from cold chain, communication and data managers to those involved in the immunization process of the recipient countries, a statement from the Indian foreign ministry said.

In response to the requests from neighbours and partner countries, “and in keeping with India’s stated commitment to use India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity to help all of humanity fight the covid-19 pandemic, supplies under grant assistance to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles will begin from 20 January 2021," the statement said.

In the case of Maldives, a consignment containing 100,000 doses of Covishield vaccines will reach Male on 20 January. Bhutan is to get 150,000 doses of covishield vaccine. Maldives and Bhutan will two of the earliest recipients of India’s gift of the vaccine manufactured by the Pune based Serum Institute of India (SII).

- India’s vaccine diplomacy is yet another testament to its Neighbourhood First policy, in which Maldives occupies a special and central place.

“In respect of Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius, we are awaiting their confirmation of necessary regulatory clearances," it said.

“Keeping in view the domestic requirements of the phased rollout, India will continue to supply covid-19 vaccines to partner countries over the coming weeks and months in a phased manner. It will be ensured that domestic manufacturers will have adequate stocks to meet domestic requirements while supplying abroad," the statement said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a Twitter post said: “India is deeply honoured to be a long-trusted partner in meeting the healthcare needs of the global community. Supplies of covid vaccines to several countries will commence tomorrow, and more will follow in the days ahead."

India started its massive vaccination campaign on Saturday aiming to inoculate 3 crore health and other frontline workers to start with. With the highest number of coronavirus infections after the US, India plans to vaccinate around 30 crore people with two doses in the first six to eight months of this year. Frontline workers will be followed by about 27 crore people older than 50 or deemed high-risk because of pre-existing medical conditions. So far, Indian drug regulators have given the go-ahead to the Oxford-AstraZeneca developed and Serum Institute of India manufactured Covishield and Bharat Biotech International Ltd’s Covaxin for domestic inoculation. A second lot of vaccines including Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D, Russia’s Sputnik V, Biological E’s protein subunit shots, and Gennova Biopharmaceutical’s mRNA jabs, are likely to be ready between March and August. Besides these, the Pune-based Serum Institute is also likely to make doses of a vaccine developed by US-based Novax company.

In its statement on Tuesday, the Indian foreign ministry said that India has been training personnel of several neighbouring countries to enhance and strengthen their clinical capabilities, under the Partnerships for Accelerating Clinical Trials (PACT) programme besides through the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme, it said.

Recalling that last year India had supplied hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir and paracetamol tablets, as well as diagnostic kits, ventilators, masks, gloves and other medical supplies to a large number of countries during the early days of the pandemic and after, the statement said that “India will continue to supply countries all over the world with vaccines."

“This will be calibrated against domestic requirements and international demand and obligations, including under GAVI’s Covax facility to developing countries," it said referring to an international organisation created in the year 2000 to improve vaccine access including that of covid-19 vaccines to the world's poorest countries.

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