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India is considering donating around 10 million doses of covid-19 vaccines to countries with which it has friendly relations, three people aware of the government’s plans said, even as it tries to balance the diplomatic move with the requirements for its own healthcare and frontline workers.

According to one of the people cited above, all of whom spoke under condition of anonymity, India may donate around 10 million doses of Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech International Ltd’s Covaxin to countries such as Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Mauritius, and Seychelles.

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Of these, about 2 million doses of Covishield are likely to be donated to Bangladesh as early as Wednesday, the second person added.

This may be apart from the 30 million Covishield doses that Serum Institute itself plans to sell in Bangladesh through a tripartite pact signed between the company, Bangladeshi drugmaker Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd and the government of Bangladesh in November.

“The health ministry is giving an overview of how many doses can be manufactured and how many are needed in India. While exports are permitted even now, we have not yet taken a decision on it. The external affairs ministry will take a final call on how many doses it will procure and send to which friendly country and when," a third official said.

However, according to the officials, such decisions will be taken only after enough doses are secured for India.

Spokespersons for Serum Institute, Bharat Biotech, health ministry and the external affairs ministry did not comment on the matter.

So far, India has procured 16.5 million doses of covid-19 vaccines, with 11 million Covishield shots and the rest Covaxin, and plans to secure more jabs later this month.

For now, these are reserved for 30 million healthcare and frontline workers.

It also plans to vaccinate 270 million people — elderly above 50 years of age and those below 50 but with severe comorbidities — by August.

India started vaccinating its healthcare and frontline workers on Saturday and had, as of 5pm on Monday, given shots to 381,305 people in 7,704 sessions across the country.

While the government plans to donate vaccines to friendly nations, the two Indian vaccine manufacturers have themselves been pushing the government for commercial export of their products.

Both Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech have signed pacts for the supply of Covishield and Covaxin, respectively, to other countries.

Serum Institute also has a pact to sell 1.5 million doses in South Africa and, more prominently, 200 million doses of its vaccines to Covax—a World Health Organization-backed facility aimed at equitable access to covid-19 vaccines.

The pact for the supply to Covax includes Covishield as well as Covavax, Serum’s version of the vaccine originally developed by US-based Novavax that is expected to be launched in a few months.

On the other hand, Bharat Biotech last week signed a pact with Precisa Medicamentos for the supply of Covaxin to Brazil. The company, however, did not disclose how many doses it will supply.

Both Covishield and Covaxin had received emergency licensure from Drugs Controller General of India V.G. Somani on 3 January, but for Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, the authorization was in ‘clinical trial mode’ as the company is yet to get interim results from its phase 3 trial.

Serum Institute is supplying 11 million Covishield shots to the Indian government at a “special price" of 200 per dose, excluding taxes, marginally lower than the $3 it is charging for Covax supplies, while Bharat Biotech’s supplies include a free donation of 1.65 million doses and another 3.85 million at 295 per shot. The average price of Bharat Biotech’s vaccine for the 5.5 million shots is 206 per dose.

About 2 mn Covishield doses are likely to be donated to Bangladesh by Wednesday.pti
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About 2 mn Covishield doses are likely to be donated to Bangladesh by Wednesday.pti
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