Script By Pallava Bagla, Science Journalist
India has embarked upon a massive vaccination drive against the Covid-19 disease and in the next few months, about 300 million people are likely to be vaccinated. The beginning has been bold and affirmative. Being a good global steward New Delhi is also helping vaccinate the world. India’s health sector has ably risen to the occasion.
India has given more than 22.6 million doses of vaccines to its citizens a massive number if compared by way of numbers if Australia were doing the same almost all of its population would have been covered. On a single day, India gave 1.7 million doses of the vaccine if we compare this, it would amount to Bahrain giving the vaccine to its entire population. According to data by the Ministry of External Affairs, about 57 million doses of vaccines will be supplied by India to over 64 countries through various channels like a grant, commercial sales, or through the UN-backed facility. This is part of the global outreach called `Vaccine Maitri’.
India’s vaccination drive is being applauded even by Ms Geeta Gopinath, or IMF who said India `really stands out’ for its vaccine policy, adding `if you look at where exactly is one manufacturing hub for vaccines in the world — that will be India’ lauding the Serum Institute of India Private Limited, Gopinath said it produces the most number of vaccines in the world in a regular year and has been manufacturing the COVID-19 vaccine doses that are delivered to the United Nations mechanism to be then distributed to countries around the world.
India accorded `accelerated approval’ which is also sometimes referred to as emergency use authorization to two Indian-made vaccines Covisheild manufactured under license from Astrazeneca by the Pune-based private company Serum Institute of India, and to the completely indigenous vaccine, Covaxin manufactured in India by Bharat Biotech Private Limited. Both vaccines are two-dose injectable vaccines and as per the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, upwards of 4.06 million people have received both doses of the vaccine which is like vaccinating the entire population of Kuwait.
Even as India protected its own population as part of vaccine Maitri or vaccine diplomacy India supplied vaccines to most of its neighbors free of cost. Gopinath said India has been providing vaccines through grants to several of its neighbor countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal, and Myanmar. As part of the UN-sponsored global facility, the Serum Institute of India supplied the first lot of vaccines to African nations like Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire in fact sources in UNICEF say till date only India has fulfilled its requirements for meeting the vaccines needs of the poorest of poor countries.
In fact, India is not showing any vaccine nationalism but illustrating a large-hearted approach. “We will not end the pandemic anywhere unless we end it everywhere,” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. Adding that India’s delivery of the vaccines to Africa was the ‘first step towards realizing our shared vision of vaccine equity, but it’s just the beginning.’
It may come as a surprise but reports say the United Kingdom has also asked Serum Institute to supply 10 million doses of the Covisheild vaccine that was actually made in their own back yard by Oxford University but it will now also be sourced all the way from Pune. Quite a reversal of roles one can suggest in just 73 years after India gained its independence from the UK.
Not just this, India also has a robust pipeline of several new vaccines that are under development with as many as 30 candidate vaccines in the offing of these 4-5 are at an advanced stage of clinical trials. These would then come online or made available for use in the population as trials get completed successfully. Indian scientists, engineers, and industry worked in tandem to deliver a bouquet of vaccines even as the country was gripped by a severe lockdown. Many foreign scientists are also applauding India’s success.
If that was not music to the ears even Brazil is now buying 20 million doses of the Covaxin vaccine being manufactured by the Hyderabad-based company at an estimated value of $290,000.
As a consequence, India’s science and health minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan aptly described the last year as ‘India’s year of science’.
The combined strategy of effectively managing infections and the simultaneous ramping up of the vaccination has helped India minimize the fear & panic, slowly but steadily the pandemic is coming under control. A word of caution Covid-19 appropriate behaviors have to be continued till the scourge of the pandemic is erased fully. India is surely on the road to recovery.