Historically, India is well known in the global picture as a vaccine exporter. This time the situation is tough. As the second wave of the Covid-19 affected the country extremely. The governments and the pharma companies are worried. The number of Covid positive cases has almost doubled in April, 2021 than the ultimate situation of the first wave during September, 2020. Along with increasing per day contaminations, the death rate has also increased in this strain of the virus.
Till April 13, India reported 13,870,731 Covid positive cases and deaths were 172, 114. In the very initial stage of the second wave, on October 12, 2020, there were 7,173,565 positive cases. So, it is understandable how the rates have jumped. To combat this, the government and the pharma companies have realised that adequate vaccination can at least encumber the pace. Though it has been proven that only vaccination cannot save a person from getting affected by the virus, but can control the severity. So, relying over vaccines like Bharat-Biotech’s Covaxin, AstraZeneca-Oxford’s Covishield manufactured by Serum Institute India (SII) and Russia’s Sputnik V manufactured by Dr. Reddy’s will be an essential way for India.
People, aged over 45 are getting the vaccines now and soon younger population will also receive the same. To meet the necessary domestic demands to vaccinate most of its population, India has supposedly curtailed its vaccine exports. Otherwise it will be a real tough challenge for the Indian government to control the contaminations.
‘Vaccine Maitri’ Initiative
Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Mauritius, and Seychelles are some of the major countries that have received vaccines, manufactured in India by SII under India’s ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative. Many European and African countries have also received vaccines from India. Additionally, India has tied with Quad partners that who have pledged to supply at least one billion doses of vaccines by the end of next year. Under this, countries like the USA, Japan and Australia will fund the production of the vaccines in India.
Through these policies India could earn a significant place in the global picture concerning vaccination that helped the country to strengthen its international relations and influence. New Delhi also focussed on ‘neighbourhood first policy’ to fight the pandemic collectively. India has already sent more than 60 million doses to around 80 countries and was about to export in larger numbers. But the increasing numbers in the domestic scene has arrived as a delinquent.
Curtail in vaccine export
Limiting exports of vaccines from India are affecting the most disadvantaged or poor states as they are waiting for millions of doses promised through the WHO and Gavi backed COVAX initiative. Adar Poonawalla, CEO, SII stated, "We are trying to balance it out as much as possible, but again for the first few months we have been directed to prioritise supplies to India and certain other countries that have a high disease burden."
The supply gap of vaccines between rich and poor states has been called as ‘grotesque’ by the WHO. COVAX is supposed to deliver around 238 million vaccine doses within May, including 237 million doses of Covishield manufactured in India and South Korea.
Countries like Brazil, Kenya and South African countries where death rates have surged highly along with the rates of contaminations are still waiting for a large number of Covid vaccines under the COVAX initiative. Data by Gavi revealed that the deficits are happening mainly because of the decreased exports of Covishield vaccines, promised by SII.
But India’s hands are tied up. Poonawalla mentioned, “India wants around 400 million doses by July. I do not know if it will take all from the Serum Institute. We are gearing up to offer that kind of volume to India and still have a few 100 million to offer to COVAX by July and August. No agreement so far”. A lump sum amount of fund is also required for SII to increase its manufacturing capacity and delivery of the vaccines. Otherwise it will be a tough road for them to provide vaccines domestically or globally.
The global scenario in the matter is also disturbing. Some of the developed countries have been alleged to order vaccines in extraordinary number. The USA has ordered almost sufficient doses to vaccinate every American adult twice. But the country has allegedly ordering more.
Bhavna Singh in an article titled ‘Vaccine nationalism and the India - China race for neighbourhood diplomacy’ in ORF, (published on April 2, 2021) commented, “Countries not only backed home-made vaccines but the Pharma companies supplied 50% of their does to 16% of world population. Countries like Britain, France, Germany and the US have already entered into agreements with the vaccine manufacturers driving race for accessibility and affordability, drawing the criticism of an ‘America First’ (self-first) approach.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO has recently noted another challenge that is ‘raw materials nationalism’. He was upset about “America’s invocation of the Defense Production Act to safeguard supplies of items such as bags and filters, for its own manufacturers. The disparity is apparent from the fact that most African nations have received few or no Covid-19 vaccines despite having the most vulnerable populations in their region” as Singh mentioned in the same article. But on the contrary, China the first impacted country has exported its locally developed vaccines to countries like Indonesia, Turkey and Cambodia - which is good news.
Boris Johnson, Prime Minister, the United Kingdom (UK) warned of an impending ‘coronavirus vaccine war’. It pushed the UK against rest of the Europe. Earlier, the European Union (EU) had said that it would terminate AstraZeneca’s vaccine deliveries to countries like the UK, because they themselves refused to export vaccines. That will not be negotiable, the EU stated.
Supposedly, the EU meant, no country should pile up vaccine doses only for their domestic usage. Vaccine nationalism will not be fruitful for anyone. But the countries should think about other countries and help them to combat the virus globally. If a country can vaccinate most of its population, even in that case the ill-effects of the virus cannot be ignored. With any international journey and transactions, the virus can contaminate again. On the other hand, poor countries that have no infrastructures to manufacture vaccines will be ruined totally. To save a few countries, the lives in poor countries should not be traded.
But in reality, countries like the USA, Brazil and India are still having large number of cases. So, before it goes beyond control, the Indian government had to curtail a certain number of vaccine exports while trying it’s best to support others. India will obviously export to its neighbour countries and other countries waiting in the queue, but the numbers will drop.