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In the global fight against the ongoing pandemic, one of the important questions in many people’s minds is “when will I be able to receive my dose of vaccine?” While India tries to battle the second wave and its health infrastructure remains distressed, it has been administering about 3 million doses of vaccines per day within the country. Till recently, India was exporting batches of Covishield and Covaxin to underdeveloped countries, leading to questions about the government’s concern for its own citizens.
India’s gesture of sharing its vaccine supplies with other countries stands in sharp contrast to several rich countries who are applying a Nation First policy and stand accused of hoarding vaccine supplies. In fact, India itself suffered from the USA’s embargo on exports of raw materials for vaccines which were later removed by US.
However, a shortage of vaccines, an increase in their prices and a huge spike in cases have sparked off bitter criticism on India’s policy to export vaccines. Before we come to a conclusion on this, it is important to analyse the larger reasoning behind the government’s decision.
India’s Vaccine Export Strategy
India has been exporting vaccines to over 20 countries mostly in the underdeveloped or developing bracket. These include- Bangladesh, Brazil, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Dominica among others. The opposition leaders along with many citizens are criticizing the government for this decision as it can be considered as neglecting the safety of its own citizens.
At a time when many developed countries like the U.S.A are practising ‘vaccine nationalism’and competing in the ‘vaccine race’– India has been quietly pursuing ‘vaccine diplomacy’. Dubbed the ‘Vaccine Maitri ‘campaign – hundreds of thousands of vaccines manufactured in India under license from Oxford-AstraZeneca, have been shipped to around 50+ countries.
The pharmaceutical industry in India is one of its strongest points and for a long time, India has been exporting vaccines and medicines to poorer countries. Making available Covid vaccines to countries in need was thus a natural outcome of India’s medical diplomacy. To date, India was able to vaccinate around 17 crore people within the country, it has exported about 66 Million vaccines across the world till April 2021.
Gains of International Diplomacy for India’s fight against COVID-19 pandemic
- Technology transfer: Production of Covishield by Serum Institute has been done in partnership with Astra Zeneca and the University of Oxford. More than 1.5 crore people have received both doses of this vaccine in india.
- Supply of Critical raw Material: Production of Vaccine requires 9000+ materials, many of which are imported into India from other countries.
- Import of Oxygen generation plants, Remdivisir etc for treatment of patients- As the cases spike, India is importing critical oxygen generation plants from Germany and other countries.
- As we face a vaccine shortfall, Russia has come forward to share vaccine technology for developing Sputnik V.
- International pressure has led to the USA finally agreeing to ease its embargo on exports of vital raw material for Covishield to India. Many other counties like the UK, Singapore etc. have also come out to help India with medical supplies
The Long-Term Importance for India
- Strengthening India’s Soft power: Create goodwill in the international community. In the book ‘Conversations of an Economic Hitman: John Perkins highlights how America became a superpower because of its policy of giving conditional help to countries around the world.
- Countering Chinese Influence: China’s aggressive moves in the Indian Ocean and its String of Pearls policy has been a factor of concern for India. Many immediate neighbours like Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal are coming under China’s economic imperialism. While India cannot compete with China on the infrastructure and economic aid front, the Pharma industry is one area where India has the upper hand and the pandemic is a critical time to use its advantage.
- Strategic Support in International Forums – Ex: For India’s bid for a permanent seat at UN Security Council, requires strategic support from all over the world.
India desperately needs support in providing health care and vital support for those affected by the COVID-19 disease. While we take in all and any international support to meet these needs, let us not fall into a hypocritical loophole by considering the export of vaccines to needy countries as a policy detrimental to the national interest.
Earlier the climate change issues and now the Global Pandemic have underscored more than ever that global cooperation is vital for countries to survive and prosper. The Lockdowns have helped many of us understand the importance of looking after our loved ones and how much we require each other’s support. The same goes for international relations where despite the number of weapons you own, what matters is your goodwill towards other countries which translates into aid in times of need. While India has now lowered vaccine export in order to cater for its internal needs, our continued support to underdeveloped countries will in the long term be a golden lining in our international diplomacy.