India sends 2,00,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to UNPKF

The 2,00,000 doses of vaccines, announced as a gift by India for UN peacekeepers, left Mumbai in the early hours of March 27.

Updated - March 27, 2021 02:56 pm IST

Published - March 27, 2021 12:22 pm IST - United Nations

Vials of Covishield vaccine. File

Vials of Covishield vaccine. File

India on Saturday delivered on its promise of 2,00,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines for the United Nations Peacekeeping Force (UNPKF) worldwide, sending a shipment bound for Copenhagen.

The cargo of AstraZeneca Covishield vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII) in Pune was sent despite the government’s decision to reduce exports in view of the need for vaccines domestically, honouring a commitment made by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar at a UNSC meeting in February. 

Officials said that the Indian donation, combined with a Chinese commitment for 3,00,000 doses of vaccines would ensure that the entire force of more than two lakh soldiers, which comprises about 91,000 active personnel and 1,11,512 uniformed personnel, receives the requisite two doses each. 

“India is a long-standing and steadfast supporter of peacekeeping and I want to thank the Government and people of India, who have generously donated COVID-19 vaccines to benefit our peacekeeping personnel and enable them to continue their life-saving work in a safe manner,” said Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix in a statement from New York, thanking the government. 

This week, government sources said that India would be considering how to “calibrate” its exports, given the vaccine roll-out domestically amid a sudden surge in cases of Coronavirus. 

In a letter accessed by The Hindu , sent in early March, SII CEO Adar Poonawalla informed several countries that there had been several “obstacles” in expanding production, including a fire at their facilities, and he could not guarantee supplies. 

A statement from the GAVI global alliance for vaccines, which is purchasing doses for lower income countries under the COVAX initiative, also confirmed that supplies from India in March and April were uncertain, and that they had thus far received only about a third of the 90 million due by May. 

UNICEF also predicted delays from India, citing “export controls”, although the government has denied banning vaccine exports. 

Speaking at the UNGA on Friday, India’s Deputy Permanent Representative Nagaraj Naidu expressed concern about a global vaccine shortage, especially for poorer countries. 

 “Lack of global cooperation and disparity in the accessibility of vaccines will affect the poorest nations the most,” Mr. Naidu said, adding that India had thus far “supplied more vaccines globally than have vaccinated our own people.” 

India has exported 62 million doses of vaccines, while it has vaccinated about 55 million people, many of whom have taken the only first dose. 

India’s donation to the UNPKF will also benefit Indian soldiers, who make up one of the largest contingents of peacekeeping troops and police, with more than 5,000 men and women deployed in the Congo, South Sudan and Lebanon, among other countries. 

“[India’s] important donation will allow us to ensure that U.N. peacekeepers are able to remain healthy and deliver in some of the most difficult environments in the world without relying on already stretched national health systems or ongoing COVAX efforts,” Under Secretary General for Operations Atul Khare said. 

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