Updated: Oct 31, 2022
Now with the coming up of the new variant of Covid-19 - Omicron and Recently, India crossing the 1 billion mark of vaccination dosages, becoming only the second country after China to achieve this feat. The world’s pharmacy has not just vaccinated its population, but also helped several other countries in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, India has exported over 66 million vaccines to 95 countries until the brutal second wave hit India 6 months ago, which temporarily halted the exports to other countries. Further, PM Modi has also pledged 5 billion doses of vaccines by 2022 in the recent G20 summit held in Italy. The recent trends have made us relook at the international stature of India in the light of changing world order where most of the developed countries are isolating themselves and losing their legitimacy at the time of a crisis like Covid-19.
India has exported free of cost vaccines to the poor countries under its “Vaccine Maitri” programme at a time when most of the developed countries are hoarding vaccines in large quantities for their own population. We will look into these facets by examining the Vaccine Diplomacy of India.
India launched the Vaccine Maitri programme in January 2021, focussing on the exports of the ‘Made in India vaccines’ to poor countries in an equitable manner. It comes under the ambit of Medical Diplomacy, where India provides pharmaceutical products, essential supplies and support of medical professionals. For instance, India under Mission SAGAR has provided medical supplies and medical professionals to Indian ocean region countries such as Maldives, Mauritius, Comoros, Madagascar and Seychelles.
Tackling with infrastructural and logistical shortcomings, India has not just vaccinated its own population but also of other nations by contributing over 60% of global vaccine demand. Furthermore, India has exported several crucial medical drugs to poor countries as a gift or at a low cost. It is the third-largest producer of pharmaceuticals and exports 18% of the world’s generic drugs.
Therefore, India has proved its capability to help other countries at a time when “vaccine nationalism” by the developed countries has affected the global supply chain of vaccines.
South-South cooperation plays a crucial role to achieve our long-term objectives. India’s vaccine diplomacy has created a platform to build friendly relations with poor nations and has the opportunity to gain a significant soft power surplus, which will eventually define its ability to manufacture consent in the future. This has also sent favourable message to the people of these countries, thus building robust friendly relations in the long run.
Further, India is also contributing to its “Neighbourhood first policy” by sending a large dose of vaccines to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius, thus preserving its clout as a regional superpower in the Neighbourhood.
A boon or bane?
The export of vaccines at a time when the country is facing significant problems pertaining to logistics, oxygen supplies and rising covid cases, led to a spurt of debates over whether India should continue to export vaccines to other countries or not. However, looking at India's impeccable record in the past, we can certainly prove that it has built robust infrastructure over time to tackle the situation in an effective manner.
Therefore, Vaccine diplomacy can be regarded as the most important boon for India’s Foreign policy in recent years. Also, given the predicament, it is enabling India to emerge as a responsible and reliable player in the international arena where many established international players have failed to do so.
Global Vaccine Manufacturing hub
India is playing a vital role in the manufacturing of major vaccines such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Covishield. Serum Institute of India, the world's largest manufacturer of vaccines, is producing Covishield at an unprecedented level to not just support the country of 1.3 billion people but also the entire world.
Vaccine exports by India perform the most vital role in global initiatives. For example, India has co-sponsored a UN resolution to ensure fair and equitable access to essential medical supplies and vaccines globally.
Furthermore, India is a part of the COVAX programme, which aims to provide vaccines equitably around the globe to cease the pandemic. The primary aim of the COVAX initiative is to produce 2 billion doses of COVID vaccines by the end of 2021 to protect high-risk and vulnerable people, as well as frontline healthcare workers. It is coordinated by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the WHO. India has already exported 18.1 million doses of vaccines under this programme until now. Further, India has gifted 0.2 million doses of vaccines to UN peacekeeping forces. Therefore, the contribution of India plays a central role in the equitable access to vaccines and essential medical supplies at a very low cost.
THE WAY AHEAD
Covid-19 has ravaged the world’s economy but the burden has doubled down on the countries that have limited resources to tackle the pandemic. This has been further exacerbated by the indifferent attitude of the developed nations. At this point of time, India has again proved its capability to support the international community by manufacturing and exporting vaccines at a rapid pace. Vaccine diplomacy has confirmed India as a reliable partner in times of need. It will accrue numerous advantages in the long run for India. However, equitable distribution of medical supplies has to be further strengthened to tackle the pandemic and India has a vital role to play in this regard. It has already drastically built its infrastructure in very little time, which shows its commitment to the international community.
The pandemic has made several nations rethink their foreign policies to make changes and recalibrate towards a more reliable partner which will support them in time of need and India happens to be the perfect candidate for it.
Nayan Chandra Mishra