It’s been a diplomatic coup of sorts. And, it certainly hasn’t gone down very well with China.
But that’s precisely what the Narendra Modi government could have expected after it unveiled Vaccine Maitri, an initiative to send millions of doses of Indiamanufactured Covid-19 vaccines to neighbouring countries, and even nations as far as the Middle East and South America.
India had earlier supplied hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir, and paracetamol tablets, as well as diagnostic kits, ventilators, masks, gloves, and other medical supplies to a large number of countries during the pandemic. This time, however, even as the country rolled out what’s touted as the world’s largest Covid-19 vaccination programme, it also deftly moved to send vaccines to neighbouring countries.
Quite importantly, the move comes at a time when no other country has delivered free vaccines to other countries. Even the United States, where the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are being made, is yet to send vaccines to developing nations hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis.
“Immunisation programme is being implemented in India, as in other countries, in a phased manner to cover health care providers, frontline workers and the most vulnerable,” said India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on January 19. “Keeping in view the domestic requirements of the phased rollout, India will continue to supply Covid-19 vaccines to partner countries over the coming weeks and months in a phased manner. It will be ensured that domestic manufacturers will have adequate stocks to meet domestic requirements while supplying abroad.”
As of February 4, India has managed to vaccinate some 4.1 million people, since the nationwide vaccine rollout began on January 16, one of the fastest in the world. The country also sent over 5 million vaccine doses to countries including Bhutan, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, the Seychelles, and Mauritius.
Besides, doses have also been sent to Brazil and Morocco, and more supplies are planned for South Africa and Saudi Arabia. India has approved two vaccines that are currently manufactured in India: Serum Institute of India’s Covishield, popularly known as the AstraZeneca vaccine, and Bharat Biotech’s indigenously developed vaccine, Covaxin. Several more vaccines, manufactured by Serum Institute of India, Zydus Cadila, Dr Reddy’s and Biological E, are likely to be ready over the next few months.
We have so far supplied vaccines to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, the UAE, Brazil, Morocco, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Algeria, Kuwait and South Africa, a spokesperson for the MEA said on February 4. Supplies made under grants amount to 56 lakh doses and commercial supplies amount to over 100 lakh doses.”
India is also planning to supply 10 million doses to Africa and 1 million to UN health workers under the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).
“India’s vaccine diplomacy is an important way for New Delhi to show regional and global leadership,” says Daniel Markey, the academic director of the global policy programme and senior research professor in international relations at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. “It shows that India has resources and capabilities of critical importance to the world, which is an important message for New Delhi to send to often-sceptical audiences.”
The move to send vaccines, many of them to India’s neighbours free of cost, is in line with the government’s plan to reclaim some lost ground in diplomatic relations and in championing the Neighbourhood First policy, a cornerstone of the Indian government’s diplomatic relations under Modi since 2014. India, however, hasn’t offered to send vaccines to Pakistan.
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