What appeared to be a trifling occasion at that time was sufficient to kindle a turbulent battle for survival among the vast multitude, whose resentments were that of agony and desolation. The onset of the catastrophic wave of COVID-19 threw India into an abyss of adversities bounded by countless rugged and undisclosed parameters. Just when human beings were learning to play God, conquering space, and disrupting the mortality rates, the raging pandemic rammed down the country’s throat with the utmost atrocity and turned them into nothing but helpless bystanders. With physical movement barred, to the layers of unforeseen circumstances that arose due to consequential lockdowns, the Coronavirus pandemic was the new reality of the nation, one that called for adaptive measures at the greatest possible dispatch.
The deadly virus however managed to change the global geopolitics from a unipolar to a multi-order world, and India, as a nation, was instrumental in assimilating into the same. Since the initial phases of the nationwide lockdown that unfurled untold misery, countless deaths, the sight of thousands walking for hundreds of miles without food or money, and the dearth of basic sanitization kits to suppress the spreading of the virus, our country’s potential was challenged. The development of healthcare research had never been on a prime pedestal until these fitting moments. For an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic, people of excellent caliber essentially undertook some impossible maneuvers to meet the demand for medical aid in the pandemic. Through their increased efforts and selfless sacrifices, they worked relentlessly to reciprocate unmet obligations and to make this world run at a normal pace once again. Eventually, vaccines were developed for the malicious virus post the rigorous trials and the nation launched a mega inoculation drive for COVID-19 last month.
The Drugs Regulatory Authority gave the green light to two COVID-19 vaccines namely, Covaxin and Covishield, after being granted Emergency Use Authorization on 16th January 2021 across India, to immunize three crore healthcare and frontline workers in the first phase, “a decisive turning point” in the words of the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi. Both the jabs were indigenously rolled out on the country’s ground. Covaxin was manufactured under a collaboration between Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Covishield was developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in association with the Serum Institute of India that conducted clinical trials and the manufacture of the vaccine.
India’s ambitious vaccination drive has administered more than 10 million doses of Coronavirus vaccines as per the government’s provisional data. “India has done it in 34 days, which is the second-fastest in the whole world,” said Union Health Minister, Dr. Harsh Vardhan. Twelve states and Union Territories have managed to vaccinate over 75% of all the healthcare workers registered on the Government’s Co-WIN portal. Bihar sees itself in the first place with 84.7% coverage, followed by Tripura with 82.9%, and Odisha with 81.8%. Delhi, however, figures in the list of the seven States and Union Territories with less than 50% vaccine coverage, with only 46.5% of the registered healthcare workers in Delhi having received their first jabs. The lowest coverage was reported in Puducherry where only 30.2% have been immunized, followed by Chandigarh where 34.3% have received the shot, and Punjab where 38.4% have received it. While both the vaccines are safe and immunogenic, dilemmas about their efficacy revolve around the whole country. The nation has not encountered any acute counter effects so far, yet there brims a sense of hesitancy among people to get vaccinated. The reluctance is primarily due to a lack of data and results of the trials of the illustrious vaccines. The vaccination drive has an intention to inoculate 10 million healthcare workers, 20 million frontline workers, 260 million people above the age of 50, and 10 million people with acute comorbidities.
India might have borne the brunt of the deadly virus that acted as a true leveler, affecting people irrespective of their social and financial status, but within less than a week after launching the world’s largest inoculation drive, our country has shipped thousands of free dosages of COVID-19 vaccines to neighboring countries, widening its ‘Vaccine Diplomacy.’ The Centre aims to use the nation’s strength as the ‘pharmacy of the world’ to improve regional ties and repulse China’s political and economic supremacy. While other leading developed countries have been mindlessly self-centered in amassing approved vaccines, India has been providing a ray of hope to most countries.
In keeping with its ‘Neighborhood First Policy,’ India has displayed empathy to the needs of the immediate neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, the significant partners of the Indian Ocean, Mauritius, and Seychelles. This has exultantly put the ‘Vaccine Friendship’ or the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative on track, which aims to diminish the rift caused by vaccine inequality. Brazil started the vaccination of the frontline workers after receiving two million doses of vaccine from India (by 23rd January). India might have invested millions of dollars in war-ravaged Afghanistan over the years, but when the time came to display empathy to their urgent needs, it supplied 5,00,000 doses of the Covishield vaccine to the country. This expansive effort of the nation was appreciated globally and pushed back against the arch-rivals Pakistan and China’s influence in other countries. India has also commenced the viable supply of vaccines to countries such as Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Morocco. As of now, several recipient countries have signed vaccine pacts with India on a government-to-government basis. India has also approved the shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to Cambodia and plans to supply jabs to Mongolia and the Pacific Island States.
In a democracy, one can expect the repercussion of sending vaccines abroad without vaccinating its population but the orientation of India towards vaccinating the population in the least developed nations is being scrutinized by the developed countries and is laying down a path for them to follow more enterprising and motivated measures to roll out vaccines. President of Brazil, Jair M. Bolsonaro cordially thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet depicting Hindu God Hanuman with the ‘Sanjeevani’, a magical herb which God Hanuman brought by lifting an entire mountain as mentioned in Ramayana. Neighboring Governments such as Nepal, which had not been on good terms with the country in recent months, have expressed their gratitude. The United States commended India’s noble gesture. The vaccine diplomacy in which India has been significantly taking the lead is a stalwart effort to lend an olive branch, build up confidence across nations and ramp up its influence, especially in the emergent countries. It has been triumphant to gain a head start over China, in South Asia. The diplomacy has placed India in direct rivalry with China, whose vaccine circulation is enveloped with its extensive geopolitical aspirations. As an instance, it has explicitly included the vaccine distribution in its broader Health Silk Road initiative, a motive to bolster its international ties. India’s ‘Vaccine Maitri’ has immense capabilities to ascend its soft power countering the Chinese debt trap diplomacy in South and Southeast Asian nations, and Africa.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG) goal number 3 talks about ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all ages. Before COVID-19, estimates have stated that 6% of the global population would be in extreme poverty, which has gone up by 71 million, thereby causing enormous challenges to SDG 1 (“End poverty in all its forms everywhere”). Therefore, to scale down the incidence of heath mortalities and poverty, it is crucial to make affordable and low-cost vaccines available for all now, more than ever. The World Trade Organization also, under its TRIPS Agreement allows for compulsory licensing for the manufacture of patented medicines to curb the menace of health-related emergencies. Thus, vaccination must imbibe the spirit of universal, equitable, and affordable supply for all strata of the society. Vaccines are the solitary sturdiest health modernizations developed in the field of medicine. The evolution of vaccines is an exemplary anecdote of global collaboration between the North and the South. However, we often come across the phase of vaccine nationalism wherein the developed nations, despite being strong financial economies, tend to amass more than what is adequate (via pre-purchase agreements), leaving the least developed nations bereft of medical interventions in a time-bound manner. This was also seen during the case of the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic and in the initial phases of COVID-19. However, in a multi-order world scenario, many developing countries, like India, have been at the forefront and are taking up decisive roles in health and safety in a progressively interconnected world. The propensity and inclination to export large volumes of vaccine highlight India’s gravity for least developing countries when it comes to drug access in the light of vaccine nationalism. I would thus like to conclude with what Helen Keller stated: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Disclaimer: Factual statements are subject to change with the release of more information.