One of the leading drugmakers in the world, India has already committed to providing COVID-19 vaccines to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Myanmar, and Seychelles under grant assistance. The delivery of vaccines to these countries will start from today, January 20, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Tuesday. 

The Indian government has said that it will export the vaccines to Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius also in the coming days when the vaccines get regulatory approvals in these countries. 

Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Seychelles, Nepal, and even Pakistan.. the list of the countries looking up to India in hope of getting its COVID-19 vaccines is getting longer with each passing day.

Bangladesh will get 20 lakh doses of the Covishield vaccine. It is, however, not clear as to how many doses other countries will get. 

Harsh Vardhan
Indian Heatlh Minister Harsh VardhanTwitter@Drharshvardhan

Separately, Brazil has ordered around 12 million doses of Covaxin. Bharat Biotech, the maker of Covaxin, has announced that it has signed an agreement with Precisa Medicamentos for the supplies of Covaxin to Brazil.

World trusts India and its vaccines

The high demand and trust in Indian vaccines are evident by the fact that even Pakistan, arch-rival of India, is also exploring options to procure Indian vaccines even though trade between the two countries has come down to almost zero after the Pakistan-staged Pulwama attack in 2019, which had claimed the lives of 40 troops. 

Pakistan is looking to procure made-in-India vaccines either through a global alliance for vaccines or through the bilateral route, as per Indian Express. 

The Islamic country's drug regulator, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) has already approved Oxford-AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use. 

India has rolled out one of the biggest vaccination programmes against COVID-19 and would give administer vaccines to over 3 crore healthcare and frontline workers across the country. 

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India's homegrown vaccines

The Indian government has given emergency use authorization to two coronavirus vaccines -- Covishield and Covaxin. The Covishield has been developed by Oxford-Astrazeneca and manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) and the Covaxin is developed and manufactured by Bharat Biotech. 

While Oxford-Astrazeneca's vaccine has completed the necessary trials, Bharat Biotech is still in the third phase of clinical trials. Easy storage and transportation are among the major reasons behind the high demand for Indian vaccines. 

Vaccine Maitri: Partners first

India on Tuesday said that it has received requests from several countries for the coronavirus vaccines and stressed that its friend and "key partner countries" will be prioritised in the export of the vaccines.

The Indian government said that it would supply the vaccines to its partner countries in the coming months in a phased manner according to its domestic requirements.

"In response to these requests, and in keeping with India's stated commitment to use India's vaccine production and delivery capacity to help all of humanity fight the Covid pandemic, supplies under grant assistance to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Seychelles will begin from 20 January 2021," the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

Before starting delivery of the vaccines, India is conducting a training programme, covering administrative and operational aspects on 19-20 January 2021 for immunization managers, cold chain officers, communication officers, and data managers of the countries who would receive Indian vaccines. 

With the start of delivery of the vaccines, India has launched a campaign "Vaccine Maitri" (vaccine friendship) --- which is seen as vaccine diplomacy, underlining its commitment to help its friendly countries fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Using #VaccineMaitri, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet said: "India is deeply honoured to be a "long-trusted" partner in meeting the healthcare needs of the global community and that supplies of the vaccines to several countries will commence on Wednesday, and more will follow in the days ahead".

Extending a helping hand

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, India has been helping countries by supplying critical medical equipment and medicines -- both as donations as well as in the form of export.

India has earlier supplied hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir and paracetamol tablets, as well as diagnostic kits, ventilators, masks, gloves and other medical supplies to a large number of countries including some developed countries like the United States during the pandemic.

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The country has also provided training to several neighbouring countries to enhance and strengthen their clinical capabilities, under the Partnerships for Accelerating Clinical Trials (PACT) programme.

"Separately, several training courses have been organized for healthcare workers and administrators of partner countries under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme, sharing our experience in dealing with the pandemic," the Ministry of External Affairs said. 

The government reiterated that it will continue to supply vaccines to countries all over the world. "This will be calibrated against domestic requirements and international demand and obligations, including under GAVI''s Covax facility to developing countries," it said.