First shipment sent to Bhutan as “subsidized supplies” for export to other neighboring countries.
India has started exporting coronavirus vaccines with a shipment to the neighboring Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, as the so-called ‘world pharmacy’ seeks to strengthen its diplomacy vaccine.
Many low- and middle-income countries rely on India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, for the supplies needed to start COVID-19 vaccination programs and end their epidemics.
“The first shipment takes off for Bhutan!” MEA spokesman Anurag Srivastava said on Twitter on Wednesday. “India is starting to supply Covid vaccines to its neighboring countries and key partners.”
The ministry said on Tuesday that “the subsidized supplies” would be shipped to the Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles, while Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius await regulatory approvals to receive the vaccines.
“La Pharmacie du Monde will take charge of overcoming the challenge of COVID,” Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said on Twitter, referring to exports.
Indian companies produce about half of the world’s vaccine supply, mostly to developing countries, according to the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance.
India will also provide training for personnel involved in the deployment of the vaccine in all neighboring countries.
India authorized two vaccines this month for emergency home use, one licensed from the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca and another developed at home by Bharat Biotech in partnership with the Indian Council of medical research, run by the state. Both are made locally.
However, Bharat Biotech on Tuesday warned people with low immunity and other medical conditions such as allergies, fever or a bleeding disorder to consult a doctor before getting vaccinated – and if possible to avoid the vaccine.
The company said those vaccinated should disclose their health, any medications they are taking, and any history of allergies. He said serious allergic reactions in people vaccinated can include difficulty breathing, swelling of the face and throat, rapid heartbeat, rash, dizziness and weakness.
The Bharat Biotech vaccine, called Covaxin, sparked controversy after the Indian government authorized its use without concrete data showing its effectiveness in preventing COVID-19.
At least two more vaccines are expected to be authorized by India in the coming months.
India will initially ship only the AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, which qualifies Covishield’s vaccine.
Bangladesh said it expected to receive a gift of two million doses of Covishield on Thursday. The country of more than 160 million people has yet to start its vaccination program and has ordered 30 million additional doses of the vaccine.
India, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus infections after the United States, vaccinated more than 631,417 frontline workers after the national campaign began on Saturday.
The world’s second-most populous country reported 13,823 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 10.9 million. The number of deaths from the disease increased from 162 to 152,718, according to data from the Ministry of Health.