Collaboration for producing Sputnik vaccines in India showcase the country’s manufacturing capabilities.
The newly-declared efficacy rate of the Sputnik vaccine has sparked a race for distribution and potential collaboration across the world – and India has a vital role to play in the eventual reshaping of the global geopolitics of the pandemic.
To begin with, Russia is already testing the first samples of Sputnik V that were produced in India, its embassy in New Delhi said last week. “In India, we have agreements with four large manufacturers,” Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) which is funding the development of the vaccine, told Rossiya 24 TV. “India will produce about 300 million doses or more of the vaccine for us next year,” he said.
The comments follow updates that French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have expressed their openness to using vaccines from Moscow if EU regulatory approval is granted. Sputnik V is already on the programme in parts of the Balkans and Eastern Europe outside the EU – and even the approval from Brussels might not be far off. Developers of the Sputnik vaccine – riding high on peer-reviewed trial results published in the Lancet that put its efficacy at around 92%, alongside the West’s best offerings – have said they expect EU clearance by March. They have already started knocking on doors in Germany to find a manufacturing partner. The European Medicines Agency said it is providing scientific advice for applications by Sputnik V.
While the situation in Europe is a perfect showcase of the geopolitical flux created by the pandemic and the subsequent race to secure adequate supplies of vaccines for everyone, for India the collaboration with Russia proves once again its capability to forge multi-stakeholder global alliances at times of crises.
As the world’s biggest vaccine maker, India’s pharmaceutical industry is freeing up capacity and accelerating investments ahead of the global rush for Covid-19 shots – and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has also taken the lead in rushing essential supplies of Made-in-India vaccines to countries around the world.
India’s Hetero Biopharma has already announced a deal with the RDIF to make more than 100 million doses of Sputnik V. It was not immediately clear which other Indian companies would make the vaccine, though Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd is conducting clinical trials of it in India and will also distribute the finished vaccine.
Indian officials have said they may approve some vaccines for emergency use authorization in the coming weeks, joining the list of three vaccines from Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech and Bharat Biotech with approved registration.
With the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine factory, churning out the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine at a daily rate of about 2.5 million doses, India has been able to dole out doses of vaccines by the planeloads to Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, the Seychelles and Afghanistan. “Acting East. Acting fast,” tweeted Dr S. Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister, announcing the arrival of 1.5 million doses in Myanmar recently.
Last week, India sent 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Afghanistan, the first to arrive in the war-ravaged country, which is still waiting for emergency approval from the World Health Organization to administer them. So far, India had supplied more than 16 million doses of the vaccine to 17 countries either through donations or commercial contracts, said Indian External Affairs ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava.
Against the stark backdrop of vaccine nationalism, India’s relentless pursuit of what it calls Vaccine Maitri (friendship) and manufacturing collaborations – Sputnik V being the latest example – offer the hope of benefiting multitudes around the world and reshaping the global leadership in handling the post-pandemic global order.