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India’s Vaccine Dilemma: Serving the nation vs Diplomacy

India has recorded the second-highest numbers of COVID-19 infections behind the USA. It is a sad state of affairs, but with a country of over 1.3 billion inhabitants, it is not surprising. What is perhaps more surprising, to at least the rest of the world, is that the country has the capability and the capacity to manufacture the vaccines and show the rest of the world why it is called the pharma capital of the world.

The Serum Institute of India is the world leader in vaccine production, and that it does cheaply. It is expected to produce 1.5 billion vaccine doses in 2021 and that is expected to rise to 2.5 billion early next year. It currently produces 70 million shots per year compared to the 20 million produced by Pfizer in the USA. The company has a history of providing cheaper vaccines than the west and as a result, has helped many developing nations who cannot afford the western overpriced versions.

Modi’s Government has aided India’s neighbours in vaccine diplomacy by providing millions of doses to Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Seychelles. It is perhaps the new international currency in getting countries onside to the Indian way as opposed to the Chinese way who have been throwing billions of dollars to developing nations in their quest for global domination.

But whilst Delhi and Beijing continued to compete for vaccine diplomacy, many critics in both countries argue that the people in their own country need to be vaccinated before providing the leftovers to other nations.

As reported in the New York Times, Manoj Joshi, a Fellow at a New Delhi think tank, Observer Research Foundation pointed out that “Indians are dying. Indians are still getting the disease; I could understand if our needs had been fulfilled and then you had given away the stuff. But I think there is a false moral superiority that you are trying to put across where you say we are giving away our stuff even before we use it ourselves.”

It is a very difficult juggling act for the CEO of Serum Institute of India, Adar Poonawalla who’s asked people to be patient. He wants to keep his promise to provide the vaccines to the world, but at the same time, there is pressure to satisfy the home market. We’ll know in a few months how he is fairing with the challenge.

“Dear countries & governments,” Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute, wrote on Twitter. “I humbly request you to please be patient, [the Serum Institute of India] has been directed to prioritize the huge needs of India and along with that balance the needs of the rest of the world. We are trying our best.”

As the war against COVID-19 continues, so will the politics of vaccination as the poorer nations are desperate to gain a foothold in saving their own populations against the financial clout of the wealthier nations. For India, it needs to continue helping to help the world’s poor as well as its own people. Where there is a will, there is hope and the Serum Institute of India is that beacon of hope.

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