On 16 January, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the world’s largest adult immunisation drive across India.
Launching the country’s vaccine drive in the fight against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), PM Modi said, “A vaccination drive at such a massive scale was never conducted before in history.”
The Prime Minister’s words show the sheer scale of this massive inoculation drive, being the largest in India’s history, with over 200,000 people vaccinated across the country in 3,350 sessions on the first day itself.
India launched two indigenous vaccines against COVID-19, marking its entry into the exclusive V5 club, the five anti-coronavirus vaccine-producing countries that also include the US, the UK, Russia, and China.
Atmanirbhar Bharat – Indigenous development of COVID-19 Vaccine
During the pandemic, Indian Government institutions and regulatory authorities worked with the private sector to strengthen the ecosystem to support candidate vaccine development and create enabling regulatory framework.
Apart from this, the Government of India launched Mission COVID Suraksha (COVID Security), which deployed $123m to accelerate the development of candidate vaccines. This also worked to ensure that these are brought closer to licensure and introduced in the market through the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), an industry-academic interface.
The government’s initiatives bore fruit as 30 groups across academia and industry are actively involved in the development, collaboration, co-development, and trials for COVID-19 vaccines in India.
Six vaccine candidates, including three indigenously developed ones, are in clinical stages of development. Three vaccine candidates are in the advanced pre-clinical development stage, while several others are in pre-early development stages.
Two vaccines received Emergency Use Authorization on 2 January 2021, and one of them (AstraZeneca-Oxford-Serum Institute) is being currently dispensed in the world’s largest inoculation drive in India.
Vaccine R&D and Manufacturing Ecosystem
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted India’s position as a reliable stakeholder in global healthcare supply chains with significant, Research and Development (R&D), innovation, and manufacturing strengths. Less than a year since the first reported case of the coronavirus was confirmed in India, the milestone of a vaccine’s successful development was reached. This remarkable achievement showcased India’s robust vaccine Research and Development ecosystem.
Pharmacy of the World
India, widely recognised as the world’s pharmacy, is one of the largest vaccine producers, with 60% of global vaccine production coming from India. Indian producers supply 1.5 billion doses annually to more than 150 countries.
India is the largest supplier of the DPT, BCG, and Measles vaccines globally. World Health Organization (WHO) sources 70% of its essential immunisation vaccines from India.
The dynamic 5 S’ vision of India’s Foreign Policy comprises of Sammaan (Respect), Samvaad (Dialogue), Sahyog (cooperation), Shanti (Peace), and Samriddhi (Global Prosperity). In line with Sahyog (cooperation) and Samriddhi (Global Prosperity), India has delivered HCQs, Paracetamols, and other medical devices to more than 100 countries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 20 January, India started delivering COVID-19 vaccines to its neighbouring countries, with the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan receiving the first shipment of 150,000 Covishield vaccines.
The Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Mauritius, and the Seychelles also received the COVID-19 vaccine from India, under the Vaccine Maitri Initiative. In the neighbourhood, Sri Lanka expects the vaccine this week, and Afghanistan is awaiting necessary regulatory clearances.
India’s Foreign Minister Dr S Jaishankar said that the Vaccine Maitri initiative is another example of the country’s ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’, and India will deliver to overcome the COVID-19 challenge. Outside the neighbourhood, India’s vaccine was supplied to Morocco and Brazil, and delivery to more countries are to follow.
The region’s preference for Indian vaccines is based on the lower cost, easier storage requirements, and geographical proximity. India, the largest producer of vaccines for middle and low-income countries, is the world’s insurance against the threats posed by ‘vaccine nationalism’.
In a world threatened by the sobering reality of epidemics becoming more frequent, international cooperation in healthcare becomes vital. India, the pharmacy of the world, will have a leading role in collaborating and cooperating with like-minded countries to link the global supply chain of healthcare effectively.
With its strong commitment to serving the whole of humanity’s interest, India can transform itself into a net provider of global health security.
Rahul Kulshreshth, Indian Ambassador to Cairo