Amid rapidly evolving global geo-political landscape, India’s vaccine diplomacy will have a huge impact in promoting peace, security and prosperity worldwide.
“Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” – the world is one family.
That was the maxim with which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his tenure in 2014. At his first address to the UN General Assembly in 2014, PM Modi said that the age-old Sanskrit philosophy would also form a cornerstone of India’s foreign policy.
Seven years down the line, as the coronavirus pandemic rages, India has proven to the international community its total commitment to upholding that simple but gargantuan task.
The latest celebration came as a consignment of Indian-made AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines reached the UAE on Tuesday, with Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar hailing the gift for a “special friend” and denoting a “special relationship” between the two nations. “Made in India vaccines reach Dubai. A special friend, a special relationship,” he tweeted.
India is already engaged in what is arguably the world’s largest vaccination programme for its own citizens. But that hasn’t deterred New Delhi from distributing Indian-made Covishield vaccines to other nations through its gigantic Vaccine Maitri (Vaccine Friendship) initiative.
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While more than 5.5 million doses of the vaccine have already been distributed so far under its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy – including the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain in the Gulf – and to countries like Brazil and Morocco, India further plans to gift the vaccine doses to Oman, CARICOM countries, Nicaragua and Pacific Island states. This is in addition to the 10 million vaccine doses it plans to supply to Africa and 1 million doses to UN health workers under GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) COVAX facility. Commercial exports of the coronavirus vaccine are planned for Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Canada, Mongolia, and other countries.
The resultant goodwill for India on the global arena has been incredible – from UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres to the WHO, Bill Gates, the US State Department and a host of world leaders have paid glowing tributes to the selfless manner in which India is helping several developing countries with the vaccines.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro thanked PM Modi for sending the vaccine supplies and equated the gesture with that of Lord Hanuman bringing the holy “Sanjeevani,” while Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominican Republic called for assistance from India “with great humility and respect… to make our population safe”.
“In the rapidly evolving global geo-political landscape, the healing and supportive actions by India through supply of Covishield and Covaxin will have a huge impact in promoting peace, security, cooperation and prosperity in the region and the world,” said Ashok Sajjanhar, president of the Institute of Global Studies and a former Indian Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia. “India’s ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative has further strengthened its image as the first responder in emergency situations. This is all the more commendable when there are only five countries in the world who have thus far been able to successfully manufacture Covid-19 vaccines,” he said.
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In total, India is looking to ship almost 10 million vaccines under the Vaccine Maitri initiative, of which almost 5 million doses are being sent as ‘gifts’. Even in cases where the vaccines are being shipped on a commercial basis, there has been a huge demand thanks to the price point at which it is being offered. While the Moderna vaccine is said to cost $30, Russia’s Sputnik V is priced at $10 and the Covidshield vaccine at $6.
But India’s efforts to help neighbours and friends around the world have not been limited to supplying the vaccine – it has also assisted more than 150 countries with urgent health and medical supplies, drawing fulsome praise from Guterres. In addition, it has trained medical professionals from 13 countries on the administration of the vaccines.
India’s vaccine diplomacy and pandemic outreach has thus not only generated immense humanitarian gratitude but also become a stark contrast to the aggressive demeanor of China during the crisis. As India’s Deputy Permanent representative, Nagraj Naidu, told world leaders at the United Nations Security Council: “India, as the largest vaccine-producing country of the world, is fulfilling our commitment to make our vaccine production and delivery capacity available for the benefit of the entire humanity.”