Nations across the globe are acquiring vaccines and organizing vaccination drives to fight the Covid-19 Pandemic; rich countries are even hoarding vaccines. India in contrast is generously sharing vaccines with other countries in need.
Vaccine Nationalism: Developed countries produced home-grown vaccines whereas poorer countries lacked access, prolonging the H1N1 Flu and Ebola crisis. Same risk visits us. The ability to procure, produce, distribute and stockpile vaccines for own citizens, competing with other nations to develop own vaccines, and vaccine diplomacy are labelled as ‘Vaccine Nationalism’. It denotes scientific achievement, intellectual might and state power, both domestically and internationally. The Covid-19 vaccination programme of 5 billion doses across the world is the largest exercise in human history.
Vaccine nationalism is harmful to the global effort in fighting the Coronavirus. India has improved its diplomatic leverage and nationalist impulse by inventing in Covid-19 vaccines with remarkable speed.
Wealthy nations–Australia, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union—through advance purchase agreements and investments in vaccine manufacturing, have cornered Covid-19 vaccines. Those account for just 14% of global population but have reserved 5 billion vaccine doses in ‘advance market commitments.’ The US has entered six bilateral deals, totaling one billion doses, far exceeding its population. The European Union, Britain and Canada have seven bilateral deals each to secure doses respectively two, four, and six times their populations. Companies (Sanofi, Astra Zeneca) are committed to supply to the USA and the UK on priority. That worries poorer nations. The African Union needs 270 million doses of vaccines, but most countries have not yet started due to resource crunch.
WHO’s concern: With the World Health Organization (WHO) pandering to China’s diktats, vaccination ceased to be “WHO’s concern”. Whose concern is it now? Worries about ‘Vaccine Nationalism’ and further mutation remains. The EU had a week-long fright in vaccine supply. The WHO wants wealthy countries to stop hoarding vaccines through advance purchase agreements as most developing countries are yet to begin inoculation for lack of vaccines.
India’s global and regional vaccine diplomacy: India—the ‘Pharmacy of the World’-is the world’s largest producer of vaccines. With strong manufacturing base, Indian pharmaceutical companies are supplying above 60% of vaccines to the developing world. India’s scientific ability to innovate vaccines has enhanced its national identity and anchored vaccine nationalism. The Serum Institute of India (SII)—the largest vaccine manufacturer of the world—announced to supply most of its vaccine to India before exporting abroad. The Covid-19 vaccine is the latest and the most sought-after commodity in international diplomacy, providing India great leverage with neighbours.
India’s vaccine policy is benign. Prime Minister Modi has stated that vaccine production will be used for the benefit of all humanity. India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, ensured vaccine supply to Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Bangladesh as ‘gifts’ or ‘grants’, and to Seychelles, Mauritius, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. India is also providing contractual supplies to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Brazil, Morocco, Bangladesh and Myanmar. America has applauded India as a ‘true friend’.
India is producing numerous vaccines for clients across the globe complying the global collaborative manufacturing framework. That betters its international image. Indian companies are also developing vaccines independent of international collaboration.
Which way to go – global or national?
Vaccine diplomacy has transcended India’s nationalist ethos into global citizenship, but vaccine nationalism feeds on adequate domestic supply. Indian companies are unfairly targeted whereas China and Russia got their vaccines approved without efficacy data!
The WHO’s vaccine manufacture for the “shared good” will deliver 2 billion doses to poorer and middle-income nations by 2021 end. But many countries still restrict access to materials through “raw materials nationalism.”
The United Nations promoted vaccine diplomacy by founding the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access facility (COVAX) in December 2020, under the auspices of the WHO. This is a vaccine-sharing scheme to encourage rich countries to donate vaccines to the poor. The “COVAX Facility” Initiative moots equitable and broad access to COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines to tackle growing vaccine nationalism.
Geopolitics and race for neighbourhood Diplomacy
Nationalist rhetoric notwithstanding, India has donated most of its home-manufactured vaccines to neighbouring countries under its “Vaccine Maitri” Initiative, leveraging vaccine gifts to extend geo-political diplomacy to international arena for uplifting global image and earn goodwill. Braving domestic constraints, India also supplied vaccines to Europe and African countries and Canada. Its global cooperation remains unaffected by ‘Neighbourhood First Policy.’ “Vaccine Friendship” program has “raised India’s standing and generated great international goodwill” in sync with a “self-reliant India.”
Biden administration was initially unwilling to export more vaccines, but then prioritized supplies to proximate neighbours—Canada and Mexico–for geopolitical reasons.
For geopolitical reasons China supplies vaccines to Indonesia, Turkey, and Cambodia. However, most Southeast and South Asian countries prefer Indian vaccines for feelings of trust, quality, and high-ranging deliverance.
President Jinping regards vaccination a part of its ‘Health Silk Road’.
In the Quad (the US, Japan, India & Australia) Summit of March 2021, America announced to finance the production of one billion coronavirus vaccines by Indian firm Biological E for supply across Asia by the end of 2022 to compete with China’s vaccine diplomacy. Even this has been criticised as “Vaccine Apartheid!”
In this geopolitical game there are no winners; only losers. The rich “worthy” states can boast of Pyrrhic victory when the “Bottom Billion” nations are exposed to new variants. A case of improperly buckling up seatbelt, leaving it loose and risky.
By NDT Special Bureau