New Delhi | India shipped thousands of doses of its first COVID-19 vaccine batches to Maldives and Bhutan on Wednesday as it struggles to meet increased demand from other countries in a hurry to immunize their populations, according to the authorities.
The Indian government said the Maldives would receive 100,000 doses of Covishield, the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca-Oxford and produced by Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker, by volume on Wednesday.
Bhutan must also take delivery of 150,000 doses of the same vaccine, then it will be the turn of Bangladesh, Nepal, Burma and Seychelles, the government said.
India plans to offer some 20 million doses to its neighbors, the Bloomberg agency reported last week.
Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius as well as Brazil and South Africa will be next on the very long list of countries awaiting the vaccine.
Latin America, Africa and the former Soviet republics follow in line. This Indian policy aims, according to observers, to strengthen its “soft power” against its great rival, China, which also supplies vaccines abroad.
“The world’s pharmacy will rise to the challenge of COVID,” Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar said on his Twitter account.
The huge country of 1.3 billion inhabitants launched last Saturday its vaccination campaign based on Covishield and Covaxin developed by the Indian firm Bharat Biotech, whose Phase 3 clinical trials have not yet been concluded.
Bharat Biotech signed a contract with a Brazilian company last week to supply some 700 million doses of Covaxin per year, according to a spokesperson quoted by the Mint daily on Wednesday.
In addition, SII plans to supply 200 million doses as part of Covax, the collaborative device against the pandemic, co-led by the World Health Organization intended to distribute the vaccine to poor countries.
As of Wednesday, India already had nearly 675,000 people vaccinated, according to government data, which hopes to immunize 300 million by July.