Vaccine Maitri to resume in October: All you need to know about India's vaccine diplomacy programme

·6 min read

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya announced on Monday that it would resume the export of vaccines, under the 'Vaccine Maitri' programme to other countries from next month itself.

Speaking to the media on Monday, Mandaviya said that the country will resume the export of coronavirus vaccines in order to fulfil its commitment towards COVAX.

He added that this in line with our motto of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam'.

As India sets to export coronavirus vaccines again, let's take a look at the programme and its reach across the world.

Start of Vaccine Maitri

In January 2021, India launched the Vaccine Maitri (Vaccine Friendship) initiative €" a major diplomatic effort to gift and supply made-in-India vaccines to low-income and developing countries globally.

Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Morocco, South Africa, Afghanistan, Mexico, DR Congo, Nigeria and the UK were among some of the beneficiaries of the Vaccine Maitri initiative.

As of 29 May, data from the Ministry of External Affairs showed that India had exported 6.63 crore doses to other countries of which 10.7 crore went as a grant, whereas 35.7 crore doses were given in a commercial capacity.

With 10.3 crore doses, Bangladesh received the most COVID-19 doses under the Vaccine Maitri programme.

India kicked off international shipment of the vaccines on 20 January 2021, only four days after starting its own vaccination program. Bhutan and Maldives were the first countries to receive vaccines as a grant by India.

Beyond semantics and altruism, India's vaccine diplomacy served as an effective tool and instrument of Indian soft-power and influence, serving to cement and deepen ties in India's neighbourhood and Indo-Pacific.

Many believed at the time that India's vaccine diplomacy could translate into critical votes at a time when India has secured a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council and is scheduled to host the G20 summit in 2023. The goodwill India earns through its vaccine diplomacy could pay dividends in the future.

Vaccine Maitri comes to a halt

However, India's export of coronavirus vaccines came to a halt in in April, with India facing a severe shortage for its immunisation programme amid a surging second wave.

Pavan K Varma, former Janata Dal (United) leader and a former diplomat in a column in the Times of India wrote that Vaccine Maitri was based on "an erroneous impression that India had 'conquered' the virus, and was thus in a position to be magnanimous to the needs of others because its own had been met".

Questioning the policy, he further wrote, "It was a noble gesture, but it missed out that in this bathos of international goodwill, India had inoculated less than 10% of its own people. The vicious velocity of the second wave caught our benevolence completely off guard. The unseemly polarity between the 'pharmacy of the world' gifting vaccines, and its own citizens running from pillar to post to get vaccinated, was stark."

Former diplomat KC Singh too tweeted several times that the country was indulging in "vaccine diplomacy" amid initial concerns that the number of doses exported was more than those administered domestically.

Amid the criticism from the Opposition over the exports of COVID-19 vaccines, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in April had hit back saying those who questioned the policy were "short-sighted" and also "irresponsible and non-serious" people.

The minister said India cannot just expect raw materials, for the vaccine, from other countries and then not send them the final product.

"I would say the blame-game wallahs will have their attitude and their approach. As serious people, let's look at it. Today, as foreign minister, I am pushing other countries, particularly some big countries, saying look please keep the raw materials flowing for vaccines to be made in India. Can I, on one hand, go around the world and tell people 'guys keep your supply chains flowing towards me and I am asking you for raw material but I'm not going to give you the vaccine'?" he said, lambasting the Vaccine Maitri critics.

Restarting Vaccine Maitri

On Monday, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya announced that India's vaccine diplomacy would resume in October.

The decision comes at a time when India's vaccination drive has surpassed 80 crore doses €" effectively, 65 per cent of the estimated adult population has received the first dose and 22 per cent fully vaccinated.

"The vaccination drive is gaining speed," added Mandaviya.

India took 85 days to touch the 10-crore vaccination mark, 45 more days to cross the 20-crore mark and 29 more days to reach the 30-crore mark, according to the health ministry.

Also read: India's vaccine diplomacy on robust footing despite Chinese campaign to smear it

The country took 24 days to reach 40 crore from 30 crore doses and then 20 more days to cross the 50-crore vaccination mark on August 6. It took 19 more days to go past the 60-crore mark and took only 13 days to reach 70 crore from 60 crore on September 7 and then took just 11 days to reach 80 crore from 70 crore.

Mandaviya further added that more than 30 crore doses will be produced in October and more than 100 crore vaccines will be produced in the coming quarter.

In September, 235 million shots €" 200 million of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and the remaining of Bharat Biotech's Covaxin €" will be available, government officials said last week. Another 10 million may be in the offing with the Zydus Cadila vaccine expected by the end of this month or early October, according to a person aware of the matter.

Furthermore, Monday's announcement is timely. This week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Washington, where vaccines are likely to be discussed at a summit of the leaders of the Quad countries -- the United States, India, Japan and Australia.

The latest announcement will have significant public health implications in poorer countries that are facing a critical shortfall in access to Covid vaccines. According to a joint COVAX statement issued on 8 September, on its supply forecast for 2021 and early 2022, only 240 million doses had been delivered to 139 countries in six months.

With inputs from agencies

Also See: COVID-19 vaccines for children will arrive 'very soon', says Mansukh Mandaviya

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