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India to Begin Export of Covid-19 Vaccines to 6 Neighbouring Nations Under Grant Assistance

A ground staff walks past a container kept at the Cargo Terminal 2 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport, which according to the officials will be used as a COVID-19 vaccine handling and distribution center, during the media preview in New Delhi, India December 22, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis? - RC2CSK98WT9V

A ground staff walks past a container kept at the Cargo Terminal 2 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport, which according to the officials will be used as a COVID-19 vaccine handling and distribution center, during the media preview in New Delhi, India December 22, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis? - RC2CSK98WT9V

The supply will be made under grant assistance to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles.

India, one of the world's biggest drugmakers, will start exports of COVID-19 vaccines as early as Wednesday, confirmed the central government, paving the way for many mid- and lower-income countries to secure supplies of the easy-to-store Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The supply will be made under grant assistance to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles.

In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the country has received several requests for the supply of Indian-manufactured vaccines from neighbouring and key partner countries. "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 January 20," it said. "In respect of Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius, we are awaiting their confirmation of necessary regulatory clearances."

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet confirmed that exports will begin on Wednesday.

According to a report in Reuters, the first batch will be shipped to Bhutan, said officials who asked not to be named. Two million doses of the Covishield vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and manufactured by Serum Institute of India (SII), will also be dispatched to Bangladesh on Thursday, said the officials briefed on the plans.

Bangladesh's foreign ministry confirmed the plan, saying a special flight from India carrying the first consignment will land in Dhaka on Thursday. "Bangladesh will receive 2 million doses of Oxford-Astrazenca Covid-19 vaccines from India as a gift on Jan. 21," it said in a statement.

SII, the world's largest maker of vaccines, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last week SII said it soon expected emergency use authorisation from the World Health Organization (WHO) for the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot, which it has been licensed to make for dozens of low- and middle-income countries.

That would pave the way for SII to begin supplies to the WHO-backed COVAX initiative aimed at fairly distributing COVID-19 shots across the world.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which can be stored at refrigerator temperature, is widely viewed as a more viable option for many poorer nations than shots from Pfizer and Moderna which need to be stored at very low temperatures.

India has received requests from dozens of nations, including urgent appeals from Brazil, to begin exports of the vaccine from the SII centre in Pune.

The country plans to start exporting Bharat Biotech's vaccine at a later stage.

(With inputs from agencies)

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