NEW DELHI: India started delivering coronavirus vaccines to its neighbours on Wednesday, the foreign ministry said, flagging off a drive to garner goodwill in an often fractious region with the first shipment sent to the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.
Bangladesh and Nepal said they expected deliveries on Thursday. The only neighbour absent from India’s list apart from China, is regional rival Pakistan, which had not requested assistance, according to an Indian government official.
Many low and middle-income countries are relying on India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, for supplies to start COVID-19 immunisation programmes and bring an end to their outbreaks.
“The Pharmacy of the World will deliver to overcome the COVID challenge,” Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar said on Twitter, adding the first vaccine lots had reached Bhutan and the Maldives.
His ministry said on Tuesday “supplies under grant assistance” would be shipped to Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and the Seychelles also. Shipments to Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius were awaiting regulatory clearances.
India authorised two vaccines this month for emergency use at home, one licensed from Oxford University and AstraZeneca and another developed at home by Bharat Biotech in partnership with the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research. Both are manufactured locally.
At least two other vaccines are expected to be authorised by India in the next few months.
India initially will only ship the AstraZeneca vaccine, made by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, which brands the shot as COVISHIELD.
India, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus infections after the United States, has so far vaccinated 786,842 frontline workers after starting the campaign on Saturday, the federal health ministry said on Wednesday.
The world’s second-most populous country reported on Wednesday 13,823 new cases, taking the total to 10.9 million. The number of deaths from the disease rose by 162 to 152,718, data from the health ministry showed.