With India set to launch its nationwide vaccination drive against Covid Saturday, a specially equipped aircraft from Brazil is expected to land in Mumbai over the weekend to collect 2 million doses of the vaccine to mark the first such export from the country, sources told The Indian Express.
The move follows a request from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in a letter last week to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the vaccines without jeopardising the Indian vaccination programme.
Sources said Brazilian authorities have struck a commercial deal with Serum Institute of India in Pune, with reports from Brazil indicating that the Chinese vaccines deployed in the country are of less efficacy than claimed. The Pune firm has tied up with AstraZeneca to manufacture the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford.
While the first consignment will be from Serum, Brazil has also selected Bharat Biotech’s vaccine, sources said.
“There is no point storing more vaccines beyond India’s current capacity. So the vaccine export to other countries doesn’t affect India’s vaccination plans,” a senior government official told The Indian Express.
The aircraft from Brazil is equipped with a special temperature-control system to store the consignment from Pune. Indian and Brazilian authorities are working to ensure all necessary clearances, sources said.
The flight was originally expected to land in Mumbai Friday but is likely to be delayed by a day with Reuters quoting Brazil’s Health Ministry as citing “international logistical issues”.
In his letter to Modi, Bolsonaro expressed appreciation that he could count on the Prime Minister for the supply of vaccines with all possible urgency and without affecting the Indian programme.
In April last year, Bolsonaro, who was the Republic Day chief guest in 2020, had reached out to Modi for relaxing restrictions on the export of Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), which was believed at the time to be an effective preventive option.
Bolsonaro had then compared India’s move to Lord Hanuman bringing the Sanjeevani to save Lakshmana’s life in the Ramayana. “Just as Lord Hanuman brought the holy medicine from the Himalayas to save the life of Lord Rama’s brother Laksmana, and Jesus healed those who were sick…India and Brazil will overcome this global crisis,” Bolsonaro had written in his letter, which arrived on the eve of Hanuman Jayanti.
However, the Brazilian President has been widely criticised by medical experts from across the world for playing down the seriousness of the pandemic despite being infected with the virus in July — with over 80 lakh cases, Brazil has the third-highest infections in the world with 2 lakh deaths.
Bolsonaro has refused to be vaccinated, and repeatedly said that Brazilians will not be required to be vaccinated when a vaccine becomes widely available. In October, he joked on Twitter that vaccination would be required only for his dog. He has also expressed skepticism over the effectiveness of wearing masks.
In New Delhi, meanwhile, with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka also looking at India, officials said the country’s low-cost vaccine could turn out to be part of its “vaccine diplomacy”.
The Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava, however, said that supplying vaccines to other countries “may take some time”.
“In so far as requests from countries for vaccines from India, you would recall that the Prime Minister has already stated that India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity would be used for the benefit of all humanity in fighting this crisis,” he said.
“As you know, the vaccination process is just starting in India. It is too early to give a specific response on the supplies to other countries as we are still assessing production schedules and availability to make decisions in this regard,” the spokesperson said.