The first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines extended by the Indian government, on Wednesday, arrived at Velana International Airport (VIA) at approximately 1440 hrs.
The Indian consignment, delivered via an Air India flight, contained Oxford Astrazeneca's COVISHIELD vaccine produced by Serum Institute of India, which are intended to cover frontline health workers and senior citizens.
Indian High Commissioner to Maldives Sunjay Sudhir handed over the shipment of vaccines in a special ceremony held at VIA.
In his speech, the high commissioner stated that the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines marked another milestone in India-Maldives bilateral relations. He emphasized the fact that Maldives had received the vaccine within 96 hours of its country-wide rollout in India.
High Commissioner Sudhir concluded his address by expressing hope that the vaccine would help Maldives to save lives, ameliorate the suffering of the Maldivian people and facilitate economic recovery.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulla Shahid and Minister of Health Ahmed Naseem also spoke at the event, expressing gratitude to Prime Minister Modi and Minister of External Affairs Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar for the generous donation of COVID-19 vaccines to Maldives.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih welcomed the donation from India in a video message broadcast across the nation ahead of the delivery, describing it as a step forward in Maldives' efforts to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.
The president conveyed gratitude to the Indian government, people and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on behalf of himself and the Maldivian government.
He went on to express hope that all citizens and foreign individuals in Maldives would be immunized for free in the upcoming months.
The Health Emergency Operations Centre (HEOC) spokesperson Dr Nazla Rafeeq revealed that the vaccine shipment from India contained 100,000 doses which would be enough to vaccinate approximately 50,000 people.
Stating that a commencement date for the vaccination drive had not been set yet, Dr Nazla assured that efforts were underway to secure regulatory approvals, train healthcare providers on inoculation, operationalise the cold chain system and raise public awareness.
Furthermore, Nazla highlighted additional efforts to secure vaccines for Maldives, including through the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC). She also noted that the government had signed a direct agreement with AstraZeneca to purchase 700,000 vaccine doses while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was overseeing efforts to acquire vaccines from other countries.
The COVISHIELD vaccine, which authorities had formerly revealed the state was attempting to acquire, shows an efficiency between 90 to 62 percent and can be stored in temperatures between 2 to 8 degree centigrade.
The two-dose intra-muscular injection must be administered with a gap of 4 to12 weeks. Individuals below 18 years of age and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding cannot be given this vaccine without special medical examinations.
With the vaccine shipment, Maldives will become the recipient of the largest COVID-19 assistance among the countries in India’s neighbourhood. The assistance so far included medicines, food items, training and financial assistance of about USD 250 million.
In addition to Maldives, India is also providing vaccine shipments to Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles.
India manufactures more than 60 percent of all vaccines sold across the world. Aside from COVISHIELD and COVAXIN, three more vaccine candidates including Novavax and Sputnik V are in various stages of clinical trials in India.
According to global experts, India’s vaccine production capacity will support efforts to turn the tide against the pandemic.