Script by Vinit Wahi, Senior Journalist
India’s goodwill gesture to offer 200,000 doses of COVID 19 vaccines for the UN peacekeepers has been lauded by the UN Secretary-general as also its continued efforts to support and strengthen the COVAX facility to ensure more equitable access. In fact, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres not only has voiced his appreciation for India’s leadership in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic but also praised its efforts to bring a much-needed supply of the COVID-19 vaccines to the world market.
In a letter dated February 17, the UN chief extended his personal gratitude to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar for India’s offer of 200,000 COVID-19 vaccines doses for UN peacekeepers, saying India has been a global leader in pandemic response efforts. In an excerpt of the letter tweeted in this regard, the UN chief said India has been a global leader in pandemic response efforts having provided critical medicines, diagnostic kits, ventilators and personal protective equipment to over 150 countries. Only last month, Guterres had said that the vaccine production capacity of India is “one of the best assets the world has today.”
The move is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that India sees international cooperation in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic as its duty and that “we have played the role of the first responder in our neighbourhood as well as undertaken supplies to countries beyond”. So under the initiative “Vaccine Maitri”, which translates into Vaccine Friendship, India is providing vaccines to the world.
India hailed as the pharmacy of the world, had last week announced the gift of 200,000 COVID-19 doses for UN peacekeepers. “Keeping in mind the UN Peacekeepers who operate in such difficult circumstances, we would like to announce today a gift of 200,000 doses for them,” Mr Jaishankar said addressing the UN Security Council open debate on the implementation of resolution 2532 (2020) on the cessation of hostilities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 200,000 doses essentially mean that it will be possible to administer the required double doses of COVID vaccines to all UN peacekeepers across missions. According to UN Peacekeeping, currently, a total of 94,484 personnel are serving in 12 peacekeeping operations across the world led by the Department of Peace Operations. A total of 121 nations are contributing uniformed personnel to the UN peacekeeping missions. India is traditionally among the largest troop-contributing countries to peacekeeping missions.
Earlier, two versions of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine were given WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL). The versions of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, produced by AstraZeneca-SK Bioscience (AZ-SKBio) and the Serum Institute of India (AZ-SII), are now available for global rollout through the COVAX Facility. The vaccine Covishield is the version of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India. Covaxin is the indigenously developed vaccine by pharma company Bharat Biotech. While these two vaccines have already been granted emergency authorisation and additionally, as many as 30 candidates are under various stages of development.
While commercial exports have taken place to Brazil, Morocco and Bangladesh and further such supplies are being made to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Canada and Mongolia, another one crore doses to Africa are also being given. From January onwards, it is sending these vaccines under grant assistance to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles while supplies to Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius will also be commencing with necessary regulatory clearances.
In fact, as per figures available, India has already gifted over 55 lakh doses of these vaccines to its neighbouring countries and some others in its extended neighbourhood. Accordingly, Bhutan has been supplied 1.5 lakh doses so far and Maldives one lakh while Nepal and Bangladesh were given 10 lakh and 20 lakh doses each respectively. Myanmar received 15 lakh doses, Mauritius one lakh and Seychelles got 50000 doses. These supplies are based on requests from these countries. In addition to this, India plans to gift one lakh doses to Oman, five lakh to CARICOM countries and two lakh doses to Nicaragua. The Pacific Island states are also getting two lakh doses. The Caribbean country is a grouping of 20 island nations that are home to nearly 16 million people.