The competition to be Vaccine Santa is hotting up in the neighbourhood. On Thursday, India will dispatch a package of five lakh doses of the Covishield vaccine to Sri Lanka as part of its ongoing outreach to the neighbourhood. Sri Lanka and Afghanistan were the only two countries in south Asia that had not yet received the vaccines India is gifting as part of a grant in aid scheme. This was because regulatory clearances from these countries had not come through. Sri Lanka approved the emergency use of the vaccine on January 23.
Earlier this month, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had visited Colombo and during his visit, the Sri Lankan government had requested India for urgent delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, say sources. The supply of five lakh doses is a fulfillment of that request.
India has donated vaccines to seven countries in the region under its Vaccine Maitri programme. These include Nepal (ten lakh doses), Bangladesh (20 lakh), Myanmar (15 lakh), Bhutan (1.5 Lakh), Maldives (one lakh), Mauritius (one lakh) and Seychelles (50,000).
China, meanwhile, has reportedly assured Sri Lanka a donation of three lakh doses of the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Sinopharm. The Chinese vaccines, however, will reach Colombo only by mid-February. Thus, India will have the first mover advantage. China worded its vaccine donated announcement in an interesting way. “The vaccine will be donated, although the production capacity of the vaccine is limited, compared with the huge domestic and international demand,'' says a statement from the Chinese embassy in Colombo.
China has announced vaccine donations to other countries in the region, too—for instance three lakh doses to Myanmar and five lakh to Pakistan. But these donations have not been received as of yet. Seychelles rolled out its vaccination drive with a Chinese vaccine, but the vaccines were donated by the UAE. Dhaka, meanwhile, decided to purchase more Covishield vaccines from Serum Institute of India and rejected the Chinese offer, reportedly because Beijing had asked it to bear part of the cost of clinical trials. China, through its mouthpiece Global Times, has blamed “India meddling'' for halt of the Sinovac trials in Bangladesh.