India will give millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine to South Asian countries over the next few weeks, government sources said, drawing praise from the country’s neighbors and pushing back China’s dominant presence in the region. .
Free shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, have started arriving in the Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Myanmar and Seychelles are next to get free shipments as India uses its strength as one of the world’s largest manufacturers of generic drugs to forge bonds of friendship.
India sent one million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine to Nepal on Thursday, a gift that is likely to help mend tense ties between neighbors.
Nepalese Minister of Health Hridayesh Tripathi said the vaccine would be given to health workers and other frontline workers within a week to 10 days and that
Tripathi said Nepal would like to purchase an additional four million doses and asked the Indian government for help on the matter.
“The Indian government has shown goodwill in providing the vaccine as a grant. It is at the level of the people, it is the public that suffers the most from COVID-19, ”Tripathi said.
Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali visited India last week to officially request the vaccine.
India’s move comes at a time when its ties with Nepal have been strained by a territorial dispute and India’s concern over the expansion of China’s political and economic influence in the Himalayan nation. sandwiched between the Asian giants.
China, which had promised aid to Nepal to cope with the pandemic, is awaiting approval from Nepal for its injections of Sinopharm.
“We asked them to submit more documents and information before giving them approval,” said Santosh KC, spokesperson for Nepal’s Department of Drug Administration.
Bangladesh was supposed to get 110,000 doses of the vaccine for free from Chinese company Sinovac Biotech, but Dhaka refused to help with the cost of developing the vaccine, leading to a deadlock.
Bangladesh instead turned to India for urgent supplies and received two million doses of the vaccine on Thursday, with the government saying it plans to start immunizing the population of 168 million people next week.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque said Bangladesh was purchasing an additional 30 million doses of the vaccine and expects to receive monthly shipments of five million doses.
Impoverished Bangladesh has seen 8,000 people die from the coronavirus, although the pandemic has not been as severe as feared in a country with overcrowded cities and only 600 intensive care beds.
“India is making the AstraZeneca vaccine, which makes all the difference. It can be stored and transported at normal refrigerated temperatures and countries like Bangladesh have this facility, ”said a health official in Bangladesh.
‘Our moment to shine’
India has struggled for years to keep pace with Chinese investment in countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives, where China is building ports, roads and power plants as part of its initiative. Belt and Road.
But demand for vaccines in those countries desperately seeking to revive their tourism-dependent economies has offered Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government a way to reclaim some ground, diplomats say.
India plans to give between 12 million and 20 million snapshots to its neighbors in the first wave of assistance over the next three to four weeks, a government source told Reuters.
India is also helping to train health workers in some of these countries and put in place the infrastructure to administer the vaccines, the source said.
“This is a series of well-designed and calibrated actions that you see, they confirm the validity of our ‘neighborhood first’ policy,” former Indian Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia told Reuters.
“It harnesses our scientific and pharmaceutical strengths, and this is our time to shine.”