The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker by volume, has agreed to produce 1.1 billion doses for delivery. And India is leveraging its manufacturing capabilities to launch its own initiative aimed at bolstering its global image as the “pharmacy of the world.”
India has already started distributing millions of its domestically produced coronavirus vaccines for free to some of its neighbours and several countries around the world. The “vaccine maitri” (Hindi for vaccine friendship) initiative was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi days after India began its nationwide vaccination campaign in January. “India is deeply honoured to be a long-trusted partner in meeting the healthcare needs of the global community,” Modi said last month. “Supplies of vaccines to several countries will commence on January 20, and more will follow in the days ahead.”
The initiative started with countries in India’s immediate neighbourhood and key partner nations in the Indian Ocean. The doses were distributed as “gifts” — in line with New Delhi’s “Neighbourhood First” policy. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean were among those further afield. Several countries, including Nepal and Bangladesh, purchased additional doses on top. According to the Foreign Ministry, India dispatched more than 15.6 mn doses to 17 countries in the first two weeks. The Indian government’s global vaccine initiative has received a mixed response at home. India has approved two coronavirus shots so far: one developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, and another produced by Indian firm Bharat Biotech. India has been shipping out the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, domestically produced by SII in the western city of Pune, and known in India as “Covishield.” Critics have questioned whether exporting precious vaccine doses is the right move, instead of speeding up the vaccination drive in India.
India, which has the world’s second-highest caseload of coronavirus, plans to immunise 300 mn people by August. It vaccinated about 3 mn healthcare workers in the first two weeks of the campaign that began on January 16 and will need to step up the pace to meet the summer target.
Some argued for involving the private sector in the vaccination campaign. Former Indian diplomat KC Singh has tweeted several times that the country was indulging in “vaccine diplomacy,” amid initial concerns that the number of doses exported was more than those administered domestically.
However, Raja Mohan, Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, said that New Delhi was making a smart move by using it’s vaccine production to improve international relations. “Delhi is showing both the political will and the diplomatic sensibility to use the cards it has,” Mohan said. “You cannot consume all the vaccines you produce yourself in a short time. They have a shelf life,” he added.
“India is rolling out a national program, and they can take a bit of that to other countries,” he said adding that India’s large production capacity makes the initiative possible. “Over the last four decades, India has become a major manufacturer of pharmaceuticals, generic drugs, and vaccines. Biotechnology research has also grown in India, which has given it more capabilities to be able to undertake such an initiative,” he said. India’s relations with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have been similarly frayed, and China has been a factor, with varying degrees, in these two cases. But as neighbouring countries line up to receive vaccines from India despite their outstanding issues, foreign policy analysts believe it indicates the pragmatism that governs the bilateral interactions.
This article is provided by Deutsche Welle