NEW DELHI - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday urged neighbouring countries to consider sharing data on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and explore special visas for medics to move around the region during health emergencies. As the dominant power in and around South Asia, and with the capacity to be the world's top maker of COVID-19 shots, India has gifted or sold more than 17 million doses to countries including Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Indian companies have promised to produce billions of COVID-19 shots this year alone. Some analysts say India's high-profile vaccine diplomacy could help it win back strategic influence lost to richer rival China in many smaller countries in the region. "Can we create a regional platform for collating, compiling and studying data about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines among our populations?" Modi said in an address https://www.pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1699031 to regional health officials meeting virtually. "Can we consider creating a special visa scheme for our doctors and nurses, so that they can travel quickly within our region during health emergencies, on the request of the receiving country?" India, the world's biggest overall vaccine producer, has approved for emergency use Bharat Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine developed with the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research, and another licensed from AstraZeneca and Oxford University. The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's biggest vaccine maker, is producing the AstraZeneca product for low and middle-income countries and will soon start bulk-manufacturing the Novavax shot. Several other vaccines are in the pipeline in India, which has supplied mainly SII-made shots to 25 countries with plans to add 49 more. It has also promised to gift 200,000 doses to UN peacekeepers around the world. India has reported about 11 million COVID-19 infections and more than 156,000 deaths. It has administered nearly 9.5 million vaccine doses since mid-January, although some Indians have criticised its focus on exports when they say more needs to be done to inoculate at home. REUTERS
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