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India may resume sending Covid-19 vaccines to Sri Lanka in July-August


NEW DELHI, June 23: Depending on the scale of production of Covid-19 vaccines, within the country, India is aiming at July-end or August to at least release those vaccines that have been bought by Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal and are now in pending status, it is learnt.

The supplies to Bhutan, which received vaccines from India as grants, will be prioritised, too. 

India, the largest vaccine producer in the world, started sending Covid shots abroad, both as grants as well as commercial shipments, from 20 January onwards under an initiative labelled ‘Vaccine Maitri’ (Vaccine Friendship). However, as India started facing a vaccine shortage, domestically, this came to a halt in April. India had shipped over 66 million doses abroad by then.

With the Indian initiative suspended, China as well as Russia have stepped in to offer their Covid shots to countries in South Asia. 

After initial hiccups in the domestic Covid vaccination drive, caused by shortages, India has launched a policy under which the central government will be the sole public sector vaccine buyer in the country. On the first day of its rollout Monday, over eight million people were vaccinated against Covid-19. 

The boost in numbers has encouraged the Union government to begin planning for the release of the pending Covid vaccines in the neighbourhood.  

According to informed sources, the Narendra Modi Government believes that if India can maintain the record number of Covid-19 vaccinations, it will reach a position by August when shipments to other countries can be resumed. 

“If the number of vaccinations that we saw on Monday continues, then the government expects that 40 per cent of the population can be covered by August and we will have a situation when herd immunity will kick in,” said a source.

“There are high chances that is when we can safely resume the shipments. It won’t be like before so soon but, of course, for the neighbourhood, we are responsible,” the source added.

However, the sources also said that, if and when the exports are resumed, it will only be for the neighbourhood since they are of “topmost priority”, and because some of them have also made payments to procure vaccines from India.

While other countries will get support from the US and other nations, it is the immediate neighbourhood that needs India’s attention. The vaccine distribution announced by the US will address concerns of the Caribbean and African countries. India believes it is time Europe stops “cornering” the vaccines and begins distribution in a significant way, said a senior government official. 

According to another official, “no exports will take place unless the domestic vaccinations are really high”. 

“It has to be a quick political call. Of course, the idea is to release the paid ones first. But priority now is domestic over exports. A lot depends on how much production we can ramp up,” the official added.

External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar had said in an interview to Bloomberg Tuesday that he sees India “playing a global role in vaccine supply… as the production picks up again”.

When India started its vaccine programme, he said, “we were living up to our obligations with the Covax (WHO-backed initiative for equitable access to vaccines). We were supplying to some of our neighbours”.

Talking about the halt in Vaccine Maitri in April, he added: “Now, when the second wave hit us, obviously we looked to purpose the deployment of vaccines primarily at home.”

Published : June 25, 2021

By : The Island/ANN