Representational image. (AFP)
Representational image. (AFP)

Bhutan, Maldives first to benefit from India’s ‘Vaccine Maitri’

Two aircraft took off several hours apart, carrying 150,000 doses of Covishield vaccine for Thimphu and 100,000 doses for Male
UPDATED ON JAN 20, 2021 01:00 PM IST

Bhutan and the Maldives on Wednesday became the first countries in India’s neighbourhood to benefit from the government’s rollout of millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines under a grant assistance programme dubbed “Vaccine Maitri”.

Two aircraft took off several hours apart, carrying 150,000 doses of Covishield vaccine for Thimphu and 100,000 doses for Male. The external affairs ministry had announced on Tuesday that India would begin providing doses as grant assistance to Bhutan, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles from Wednesday.

India also plans to supply vaccines neighbouring and key partner countries such as Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius, from which confirmation of regulatory clearances is awaited.

“India fulfils commitment to give vaccines to humanity. Supplies to our neighbours will start on 20th January. The Pharmacy of the World will deliver to overcome the COVID challenge,” external affairs minister S Jaishankar tweeted regarding the Vaccine Maitri (Vaccine Friendship) initiative.

With the shipping of supplies to Bhutan and the Maldives, India also became the first country to provide South Asian nations with vaccines as aid. This comes against the backdrop of three meetings held by China with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh since July last year to discuss Covid-19 cooperation.

Supplies of two million doses of Covishield to be provided to Bangladesh as aid will begin from Thursday, and a formal announcement about supplies to Nepal is expected on Wednesday.

Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering had earlier congratulate Prime Minister

Narendra Modi on the launch of India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive and said he hoped it would come as an “answer to pacify all the sufferings we have endured [during] this pandemic”.

According to a statement from the Bhutan Prime Minister’s Office, Thimphu plans to stockpile vaccines, including the 150,000 doses from India, and carry out the first round of vaccinations for all citizens within a week. Bhutan’s the nationwide vaccination programme will be rolled out “only when we have sufficient doses for all the targeted population”, the statement said.

“We are well on track with health facilities and human resource planning. That time, movement of people will be stopped for one week. The second dose of the vaccine will be administered in the same arrangement four weeks after the first dose,” it added.

Also Read: India ‘deeply honoured’ to meet the world’s healthcare needs: PM Modi

With a targeted vaccine population of more than 533,000, Bhutan needs around 1.2 million doses. The Prime Minister’s Office also said the vaccination drive will be rolled out after an “inauspicious month” between February 14 and March 13. However, it said this wait will help Bhutan learn from “experiences, possible side effects and lessons” of other countries that have rolled out vaccination programmes.

India had earlier provided essential medicines and medical supplies, including paracetamol, hydroxychloroquine and PPEs worth more than 2.8 crore to Bhutan. It also expedited the release of 501 crore for priority projects to counter challenges brought on by the pandemic.

The Maldives’ government has reciprocated India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy with its own “India First” policy. During a visit to Male last November, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla had said India will accord priority to the Maldives for providing vaccines.

In September 2020, India provided urgent financial aid worth $250 million to the Maldives through investment government bonds by the State Bank of India. This was the first aid package of such magnitude announced by India for any country to deal with the Covid-19 crisis.

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