Vaccine Diplomacy – A Game Changer In World Order

 By Gaurav Gupta


India, which has the second-largest population in the world, declared a complete lockdown on 23 March 2020 to control the spread of the Wuhan Virus, since the occurrence of the first case of the above said virus on 30 January 2020. In spite of announcing a series of measures like quarantine for infected individuals and social distancing for all, on 25 March 2020, a US-based foreign affairs magazine predicted catastrophe for India. A few months later, in July 2020, Boston Review, called India’s Wuhan Virus response a ‘Humanitarian Disaster’. In August 2020, Scientific American magazine claimed ‘India is in denial about COVID-19 crisis’. In October 2020, BBC declared ‘New Delhi is staring at Corona Virus disaster’. The pandemic in India is now 10 months old. The BBC now reports that the UK records 1564 daily deaths. CNN reports that the UK hospitals look like ‘War Zones’. India, on the other hand, has got a grip on the pandemic. The daily cases in India have fallen to the lowest since June 2020. When the developed nations in the world are focused on their own problems, India is nursing other countries back to health.

India’s Healing Touch

As early as June 2020, the Serum Institute of India announced an investment of 100 million USD for the potential COVID-19 vaccine2. India is now driving the world’s biggest vaccination program to vaccinate its 1.3 billion citizens. By July 2021, India plans to immunise at least 300 million people which is almost the population of the US. India has trained 2,00,000 vaccinators and 3,70,000 team members and has readied 29,000 cold storage.

India is not just vaccinating its own citizens but also vaccinating its neighbours and beyond. India has gifted 1,50,000 doses of COVID vaccine to Bhutan, 1,00,000 vaccines to Maldives, 10,00,000 doses to Nepal, 20,00,000 doses to Bangladesh and 15,00,000 doses to Myanmar. Indian vaccine has also reached Seychelles, Mauritius, Brazil, and Morocco free of cost. Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are next on the list. UK and Belgium have shown interest in buying the Indian vaccine. Dominica has sent an SOS letter to the PM of India for a donation of 70,000 doses. Other African and West Asian nations like South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, UAE, and Saudi Arabia are looking forward to Indian vaccine. India, known as the world’s pharmacy, is also home to a large number of USFDA approved vaccine manufacturing plants having top-notch standards. While world stopped export of the medicines, India exported Hydroxychloroquine, REMDESIVIR, Paracetamol tablets, diagnosis kits, ventilators, masks, gloves and medical essentials to various countries. Vaccine plants across the world are tying up with Indian pharmaceutical companies for manufacturing the vaccine as the Indian vaccine is cost-effective and safe.  India, at present, is home to the world’s largest manufacturer ie The Serum Institute of India having a capacity of producing 1.5 billion vaccines annually. The UKs Glaxosmithkline – the nearest rival – has less than half the capacity. India will cater for 50% of the global demand for COVID vaccine. The Serum Institute of India will also supply 200 million of vaccines to COVAX alliance to distribute vaccines to poorer countries.

India The Rising Super Power

While the Western World is looking inwards during the pandemic, India has emerged as a world leader and reaffirmed the faith with its friendly nations across the world. As early as April 2020, PM of India Mr. Narender Modi pitched for a joint strategy to combat the pandemic, formed the COVID-19 emergency fund, and pledged 10 million USD for the same. India has advocated the availability of medicines across the globe through international cooperation and development partnerships and signed a UN resolution to ensure fair and equitable access to essential medical supplies and vaccines developed to fight COVID-19.5 The move to provide medicines has further increased India’s goodwill in the region and abroad. If the region starts to vaccinate at the same time, it can recover faster economically, and travel within the region can become faster and easier3.

China’s Global Times tweeted ‘India hopes to counter the international influence of Chinese vaccines, even if China has always set its own pace and has no intention of competing’. While China is attempting to buy support, India is working towards supporting the world. India’s response to its neighbours call has been proactive rather than reactive. India has helped Nepal by deploying military doctors to support the local management of COVID, has supported the Maldives to kick start its economy through tourism and free vaccination, helped Sri Lanka and Myanmar to get free from the pandemic. India is steadily stepping into a leadership role and is displaying compassion which has never been seen before. India is engaged via the world through G-20 and bilateral interaction with over 100 countries through virtual conversations to enhance the global pandemic response. Rapid response team of doctors, nurses and paramedics have also been deployed in Kuwait on the request.

India, in manufacturing and supplying COVID medicine to it’s neighbours, has proved to the world that India is on track in its vision to be an Atmnirbhar Bharat. The provision of vaccines to its friendly neighbours and many other countries has reestablished the fact that India is a true friend who can be trusted during testing times. While tackling pandemic, India has risen taller above the other countries in the world. India is leveraging the COVID pandemic for enhancing diplomatic relations with more than 85 countries across the world. Even in the time of the pandemic, much before it’s citizens are vaccinated, India is following the policy – neighbourhood first and healing the South East Asian region with the highest population density. India, thus, moves forward with the principle of ‘Whole world is one family’ or Vasudev Kutumbhakam’.

PM Modi has announced “India is ready to save humanity with COVID vaccine”. India’s vaccine diplomacy will, thus, generate goodwill. Many world leaders and personalities like Bill Gates and WHO Chief have lauded India’s efforts to end the pandemic. Multilateral agencies such as UNICEF too have been provided with global supplies by India. The UN Secretary-General ‘saluted’ India for extending solidarity across borders in fighting the devastating pandemic.

Way Ahead

Transnational transmission of health risks in a globalised world is a new reality. In view of New Delhi’s soft power approach strategically, COVID diplomacy holds crucial importance in terms of the extent of its impact as well as its greater sustainability. India must, therefore, leverage COVID diplomacy for following:-

  • Widen mutual economic engagement for Indian entrepreneurs in medical and other related as well as non-related sectors like medical research, medical equipment manufacturing, aviation, shipping, and hospitality(for medical tourists) with friendly countries, initiate engagement with countries with strained bilateral ties and mark Indian presence in geo-strategically important locations.
  • Play a pivotal role in strengthening WHO to deal with future pandemics by promoting international cooperation and creation of a global transnational response mechanism for any future pandemic.
  • Leverage its initiatives in supporting the development of medical infrastructure and growth of the healthcare sectors of other friendly nations by enhancing medical exports and thus offer the much-awaited space for medical start-ups as well as India’s public and private players through Joint ventures.
  • Explore opportunities in the fields of traditional Indian remedies offering fitness and wellness including Yoga, Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, and Homeopathy that offer India an exclusive, competitive advantage over other global players.
  • Establish a comprehensive data and expertise sharing platform for extended neighbourhood countries to include BIMSTEC, CAR, West Asia, South East Asia, and Indo Pacific to ensure adequate and timely sharing of data to ease processes of providing relief and assistance.

Ensuring adequate space to COVID diplomacy has never been more imminent. With the wide-reaching implications of the impacts and causes of health security on overall national security and stability of the countries, ignorance towards this sector comes with significant opportunity costs. While it must be acknowledged that like every other aspect of international diplomacy, COVID diplomacy too shall be incapable to singularly bear many fruits, it is, therefore, time that it is recognised at par with other traditionally relevant diplomacies. It will only be in the time that one shall be able to assess how far India can flex its diplomatic muscle through its medical sector to make use of this opportunity to be a game-changer in the world order.