The United States said on Monday that it was working with partner countries to ensure sufficient vaccine availability to countries in India's immediate neighbourhood such as Nepal, Bangladesh, and many others that have started approaching countries like China and Russia and manufacturers like Pfizer for vaccines, reports LiveMint.
This comes after India banned exports and prioritized production for domestic needs following a vicious second wave of covid-19 infections hitting the country.
Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar are reportedly to get China made vaccines while Sri Lanka on Saturday approved Pfizer's covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in the island nation as it battles a third wave of the virus, a Reuters report from Colombo said. Colombo's move follows restricted supplies from India, the Reuters report added.
India had started supplying vaccines as gifts as well as exports to its neighbours – as part of its Vaccine Maitri (Vaccine Friendship) initiative – almost coinciding with the launch of its own domestic inoculation drive that was started on 16 January. Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar, while addressing an event in London last week said that India had to give the vaccines to its neighbours, as these countries were on India's "doorstep."
But a devastating second wave of infections has impacted Asia's third largest economy infecting a total of 23 million people and causing more than 250,000 deaths. Given the crisis at home, India stopped vaccine exports after sending out more than 66 million doses as gifts or on a commercial basis.
This has put countries in its neighbourhood in a quandary as those of their populations already vaccinated with India produced Covishield will have to wait for the second dose of the same vaccine.
In New Delhi Daniel Smith, US charge d' affaires said that India prioritizing vaccines for domestic consumption was "absolutely understandable."
"But at the same time, it means a lot of these countries are at risk that they will not get a second round of vaccination. So we are looking to partner other countries. We are looking at what we can do both to boost production here in India but also to make up for whatever shortfall exists as a result of India's own needs for thee vaccines," Smith said.
The pandemic situation was also discussed on Monday in a telephone call between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering.
The official readout did not refer to a second tranche of vaccines that is due to Bhutan soon. It said that Tshering expressed solidarity with India "in their efforts against the recent wave of covid-19 pandemic."
India has so far supplied Bhutan with 550,000 doses to vaccinate the entire adult population of Bhutan. Another 550,000 doses are due in a month.
The US has some doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca developed vaccine but it is awaiting clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration, Smith said.
"But I have heard from other countries as well who may have additional Oxford-AstraZeneca doses that they are aware of the needs in the region. They are thinking how they might respond to that," he said.
According to Smith, the challenge was that no one had studied the efficacy of using a different vaccine for the second dose.
"Some countries may resort to starting over with a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine but obviously if we could solve this by providing a second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine, that would be the simplest and best solution," he added.