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India leads the way in donating Covid-19 vaccine to countries in need

Move will give India much soft-power on the world stage

As talk about vaccine apartheid intensifies, India has been donating its locally produced vaccines to a group of other developing countries. The vaccine diplomacy will intensify India’s soft power on the world stage.

The Serum Institute of India, an Indian company, is now producing the AstraZeneca to make the vaccine. And India is donating millions of doses to countries near to it, as well as countries as far away as the Caribbean.

 A health worker shows Covid-19 vaccine in Mumbai, India. Photo: Rajanish Kakade/AP

The Serum Institute of India is said to have already stockpiled 80 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine according to a recent report from the Voice of America (VOA), and is producing about 50 million doses a month.

“Today India, with not one but two made-in India vaccines, is ready to protect humanity,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said, according to the VOA.

MODI… India is ready to protect humanity

 “Being the pharmacy of the world, India has supplied essential medicines to the needy across the globe in the past and is doing it today as well,” he said.

The vaccine diplomacy is a move to make India have a bigger presence on the world stage.

“It’s about image and soft power. India wants to be recognized as a global leader,” Sreeram Chaulia, dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs was reported as saying by the VOA.

India is actually seen as the world’s largest producer of Covid-19 vaccines, and the Pune-based Serum Institute is said to be the world’s largest-producing company. The country has started its own vaccination programme, but with more than a billion people to get the shot, its going to be a long haul.

India, with a population of 1.366 billion people, has reported some 10.9 million cases of Covid-19 with a seemingly low number of 156,000 deaths.

With more than eight million people receiving vaccines, India has so far vaccinated more people than any other country apart from four countries —  the United States (52 million), China (40 million) and the UK (15 million). Owing to its huge population, the numbers are far less impressive when looked at as a percentage.

Nevertheless, India is going out of its way to donate vaccines to other countries.

CARIBBEAN

Barbados, a small island state in the Caribbean, received 100,000 vaccines on February 9, which will be enough to vaccinate a very significant proportion of its population. The country has a total population of about 290,000 people and should get another delivery of 100,000 doses soon.

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley (left) was at the airport in Barbados to accept the vaccines from India.

Dominica, another small Caribbean island, has received 70,000 doses, which should help to vaccinate an even larger proportion of its population of 72,000 people.

The vaccines are AstraZeneca vaccines produced in India. They should require two doses per recipient, so it should be enough for 50,000 people in Barbados and 35,000 people in Dominica.

The move by India should increase the country’s soft power, particularly at bodies like the United Nations, where each country has one vote – whether it has a population of 1.2 billion people in India or a miniscule 72,000 people in Dominica.

By beating China to the punch, it may grant India greater softer power in the Caribbean than China, which up to now has been gaining significant influence via its gifts of aid and infrastructure development in much of the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, many states in the Caribbean are still waiting expectantly for Cuba to bring one of its four vaccines to market – and many will be hoping for similar largesse.

The black sand beaches of Dominica have held back tourism

A country like Dominica, which saw its economy ravaged by hurricanes a couple years ago, and which has a small tourism industry owing to its black sand beaches, has a per capita income of about US$8,000.

Barbados is more developed, with a strong tourism industry and a highly literate population estimated at 99.6 percent. It has a much more significant per capita income of about US$18,600.

So theoretically, Barbados should be able to afford to buy its own vaccines – especially the more affordable AstraZeneca vaccines which go for about US$3 per shot.

But the problem is not affordability for Barbados. The problem is more about availability. And countries like Barbados are just not top priority for the drug-producing companies which already have massive orders for many much larger developed economies.

Yet for countries like Dominica, the problem is much larger – affordability and availability.

The one advantage these small island states have is that they are islands. So it should be much easier for them to control their borders than countries with land borders.

India is sending the vaccine to a list of countries as humanitarian aid

And because Dominica doesn’t have much of a tourism industry anyway, it should be able to keep its borders locked for as long as is necessary.

Other countries in the Caribbean may also get the vaccine, as humanitarian aid from India — including CARICOM countries like Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Monserrat, St Kitts, Trinidad, Suriname, Grenada Jamaica, St Lucia and St Vincent, as well as Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname and Jamaica all have large Indian-descended communities dating back to the days of indentured labour after the end of slavery in the 19th century. And all of the English-speaking Caribbean countries have an affinity to India via the Commonwealth of Nations.

CLOSER TO HOME

But India’s largesse has gone much further than the small island states in the Caribbean. India also beat China to the punch in Afghanistan, where it has donated some 500,000 vaccines.

India is also donating vaccines to Mauritius and the Seychelles, as well as Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Afghanistan recives 500,000 AstraZeneca vaccines from India

Pakistan, however, has not been included on the list of countries receiving the Indian-produced vaccine.

 “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” said Zahid Maleque, Bangladesh’s health minister, about India’s goodwill gesture.

Further afield, Bahrain in Arabia has also received a donation of 100,000 doses from India.

COMMERCIAL SHIPMENTS

India has also started to sell the vaccine to wealthier countries, with shipments going, or soon to go, to Brazil, Morocco, Mexico, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Mongolia.

A MARKEDLY DIFFERENT APPROACH

So India is taking a very different approach to other producers, going out of its way to donate millions of doses to countries that would be in danger of not getting any vaccines for the foreseeable future.

Manish Kumar, a 34-year-old sanitation worker, became the first person to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in New Delhi on January 16, 2021.  Photo: Reuters

The policy is in marked contrast to European and North American producers that are concerned with saving their own populations first before lending a helping hand to others.

China may also want to take an approach similar to India, but it is slower out of the starting blocks – and because it is the country where this pandemic originated, some countries are probably viewing its (as yet unproven) vaccines a little suspiciously.

Russia is also taking a similar tack with its Sputnik V vaccines, which have received approval. But their production is not yet up to the Indian rate.

So it is likely that India will acquire considerable goodwill and soft power through its vaccination policy, at the expense of China, the US, the European Union and the UK.

But what will be the reaction of its population? It may take months, even years, before India is able to vaccinate its population. How will Indians view other countries receiving its own locally-produced vaccines before it does? This remains to be seen.

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