Slugfest Over Vaccine Maitri

    27-May-2021
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There has been a lot of buzz around India’s humanitarian initiative “Vaccine Maitri”. While India received accolades from various quarters, a section of media and some political parties have been reprimanding the government for exporting the homegrown vaccines by keeping domestic requirements at stake
 
-Tulip Sharma 
 

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The supplies under the Vaccine Maitri initiative, which began on
January 21, have earned India considerable goodwill, especially in small countries
 
COVID pandemic is a humanitarian crisis that has engulfed the entire world. A global menace can only be dealt with global collaboration. Poor countries cannot be left to fend for themselves, likewise, the developed countries cannot be self-centred and look after their own interests. In these testing times, India’s indigenous vaccines that are cheapest globally have been widely acknowledged and relied upon. India’s humanitarian project—Vaccine Maitri has received great appreciation by organisations like United Nations (UN), WHO (World Health Organization), WTO (World Trade Organization), and nations worldwide. WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom praised India for supporting vaccine equity and suggested that other countries should follow India’s lead. UN secretary-general António Guterres called India a global leader for her pandemic response efforts. World leaders rejoiced at how India exported vaccines to over 90 countries. The Supreme Court of India too hailed India’s smooth conduct of vaccination—the largest inoculation drive in the world. It said India has done a commendable job both domestically and internationally. All the above accolades strengthened India’s medical innovation and leadership, bestowing her the title “Pharmacy of the world.”
 
Was India Right in Exporting the Vaccines?
 
No country that aspires to become a global power can stay aloof from geopolitics. Defending its decision of exporting vaccines, the Central Government said in the Supreme Court that, “The entire globe is a unit” during a pandemic. Let’s look at the stats to substantiate it. Between January-April 2021, India exported 663.698 lakh vaccines to over 90 countries along with UN health workers and peacekeepers since it was a part of a “global action to vaccination”. It is worth nothing that at the same time about three times as many vaccines doses were administered within India. Out of total exports, only 107.15 doses were sent as humanitarian aids which amounts to 16 per cent. Well, the export was not just a matter of morality; there are more complexities to it. The remaining 84 per cent was divided into two categories out of which 54 per cent—357.92 lakh doses were sent as commercial supplies by Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech, the leading manufacturers in India. The other 30 per cent—198.628 lakh doses were sent for WHO’s COVAX program. So this whole 84 per cent category was out of a contractual agreement between vaccine manufacturers. India was obliged to export the vaccines, and it was not a matter of mere choice. For example, 14 per cent of the commercial supplies were exported to the United Kingdom because Covishield got its license from Oxford-AstraZeneca. Similarly, SII being a part of the COVAX programme, was also obliged to supply its vaccines for facilitating equitable supply around the world. In return, India was made recipient of nearly 97 million doses from COVAX. Even in the first category of 16 per cent, the government adopted a highly prioritised approach to help the immediate neighbours first. Out of 107.15 lakh doses, 78.5 lakh doses i.e. 73.26 per cent, were sent to seven neighbouring countries. This humanitarian initiative uplifted India’s position in the South Asian region. Around 2 lakh doses were also sent to the UN peacekeeping, which comprises of 6,600 Indian personnel.
 
More than 40 countries pledged their support to India. It did not just happen out of nowhere, they reciprocated the good gesture that had been showed to them by India. No country is self-sufficient at this juncture, we are all dependent in some or the other way. Uncaring attitude towards our diplomatic ties can weaken our fight against COVID 
What if India denied exporting the vaccines and fulfill contractual obligations? We would not have been in a position to obtain a license and manufacture indigenous vaccines. We would have been wholly dependent upon the foreign countries to fulfill our domestic requirements. Given the colossal population we are, it would have been total chaos! Trade is not one-way. To manufacture vaccines, India needs to procure raw materials from a foreign land, which can only be done through trade. What if India denied extending help to her neighbours and poor and middle-income countries? Nobody would have come forward to help India with oxygen supplies and medical equipment. When India needed help, the Biden Administration said, “Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need”. More than 40 countries pledged their support to India. It did not just happen out of nowhere, they reciprocated the good gesture that had been showed to them by India. No country is self-sufficient at this juncture, we are all dependent in some or the other way. Uncaring attitude towards our diplomatic ties can weaken our fight against COVID.
 
The Pessimistic Outcry of Vaccine Exports
 
Some media outlets and opposition leaders have been attacking the Government for its decision to fulfill contractual and moral obligations by exporting vaccines. No wonder the same people discredited India’s scientific community by terming the vaccine as “BJP ki vaccine” and created an atmosphere of suspicion. While the citizens waited eagerly for an antidote, all they cared about was earning brownie points through fear-mongering. The Congress-ruled states like Chhattisgarh declared that they won’t allow entry of any vaccine in their states as they believed it to be untrustworthy. Is this how the spirit of cooperative federalism looks like? Talking about Covaxin, Manish Tewari, a Congress leader, said that BJP was making guinea pigs of Indians. Many leaders protested, saying they won’t take the vaccine themselves, so Indians should also avoid taking it. Recently, Rahul Gandhi went on to say that India has turned into a beggar from a vaccine leader. This kind of conduct at a critical juncture brings down the country’s morale and creates vaccine hesitancy among people. The vaccine politics has not yet stopped. Putting up of banners with expression, “Hamare bachchon ki vaccine videsh kyun bhej diya? (Why did you send vaccines of our children to foreign countries?)” in the streets of Delhi, running negative campaigns on social media, fuelling the vaccine export uproar are acts of great misconduct aimed at denting India’s hard-earned image.
 
(The writer is Law student, Amity University, Chhattisgarh)