India plans 20m doses of Covid-19 vaccine supply to neighbours

The first batch of the vaccine vials will be shipped over the next two weeks.
The first batch of the vaccine vials will be shipped over the next two weeks.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - India, one of the world's largest manufacturers of inoculations, plans to offer 20 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to its neighbors as it draws up a policy to supply vials to countries across the globe, people with knowledge of the matter said.

An Indian state-run company will buy vaccines from the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech International for supplying to Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Seychelles and Mauritius, the people said, asking not to be identified as the plan is still under discussion. Some of supplies may be free and treated as aid, they added.

The first batch of the vials will be shipped over the next two weeks, the people said. The government will then offer the vaccines to countries in Latin America, Africa and the former Soviet republics. A spokespman for Bharat Biotech couldn't immediately comment while a spokesman at Serum declined to comment.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen to tap India's leadership in vaccine manufacturing by helping countries battling the pandemic and raise the South Asian nation's profile to rival China, which is also supplying its home-grown inoculations around the world. Brazil, with more than 8 million cases, has sought urgent supplies and so has South Africa.

"It is too early to give a specific response on the supplies to other countries as we are still assessing production schedules and delivery," India's foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said at a weekly briefing on Thursday (Jan 14).

Overseas Supplies HLL Lifecare, a state-run healthcare manufacturing company, which is procuring the vaccine vials from Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech for the government's vaccination programme starting from Saturday, may be roped in for overseas supplies. The company supplied hydroxychloroquine tablets to over 120 nations last year.

Brazil is sending an aircraft to India after Mr Modi agreed to expedite vaccine shipments, according to the nation's Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello. Serum will supply two million vaccines to the South American nation.

Serum's chief executive officer Adar Poonawalla in an interview this month said he expected overseas supplies to only start around March, adding that the government will enable overseas sales after first meeting India's initial requirements.

The Serum Institute is manufacturing a coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca while Bharat Biotech's is an indigenous one.