CHICAGO, Illinois — As many wealthier countries begin to vaccinate their populations against COVID-19, the developing world runs the risk of lagging far behind. The WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says that the unequal sharing of COVID-19 vaccines puts the world “on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure.” The good news is that India is taking diplomatic initiative by donating COVID-19 vaccines to other South Asian nations with limited access to doses. Indian vaccine diplomacy stands against the “vaccine nationalism” many of the wealthiest countries around the globe are practicing. This act is inspiring hope in many of the world’s developing countries. India has referred to this effort as the “Vaccine Maitri” (vaccine friendship) initiative.
India’s Vaccine Production
India has put itself in the position of a vaccine supplier through its own superb planning and production capabilities. More than able to produce enough vaccines for its own population, it has decided to use its surplus to help disadvantaged countries. The Serum Insitute of India has made India the largest vaccine producer. This means that India has a sizable stockpile of vaccines. The Serum Institute produces a colossal 50 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine monthly. The Indian government is also providing vaccines to low-income countries through COVAX.
While most plans lie in the near future, Indian vaccine diplomacy has already made an impact. In early February 2021, India sent 35,000 doses from the Serum Institute to the small island nation of Dominica, in a move that garnered a lot of good publicity. Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit expressed his gratitude by tweeting, “Even though I trust every word of the bible, I must confess that I did not imagine that the prayers of my country would have been answered so swiftly. Thank you India.”
India has provided more than 17 million doses of vaccines to countries around the world as of late February 2021, through both sale and donations. The current number of countries helped stands at 25 with the intention to add 49 more. The vast majority of these countries are low or middle-income and may have waited years for any vaccine doses without India’s help. India has stepped up as a leader in the world, and especially in South Asia, where it has provided doses to its immediate neighbors Bangladesh, Nepal, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and more. It has prioritized South Asian countries but intends to extend assistance to other developing countries across the globe.
The Indian nation has also approved and delivered commercial sales of vaccines to Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and South Africa. While these are not free, India is providing these countries an available and diplomatic commercial partner while vaccines are still difficult to secure.
Ensuring Equitable Vaccine Access
Indian vaccine diplomacy shows the country’s concern for the world’s disadvantaged nations and expresses its growing position in global leadership. India has also promised to contribute one million doses to U.N. health workers and 10 million doses to Africa under the COVAX program. India is taking the lead to ensure vaccine equity, setting an example for other countries to follow.
– Clay Hallee