Vaccine Diplomacy: A Chance for India

Vaccine diplomacy is the branch of global health diplomacy in which a nation uses the development or delivery of vaccines to strengthen ties with other nations. It also includes the joint development of life-saving vaccines and related technologies, with the major actors typically scientists coming together to work irrespective of the kind of diplomatic relations between the participating countries.

Benefit for India:

It could provide innovative opportunities to promote India’s foreign policy and diplomatic relations between nations in its neighborhood and across the globe. India had earlier supplied hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir, and paracetamol tablets, as well as diagnostic kits, ventilators, masks, gloves, and other medical supplies to a large number of countries to help them deal with the pandemic. India has also carried out capacity building and training workshops for neighboring countries.

Importance of India’s Vaccine Diplomacy:

Earning long term goodwill: By financing shipments from India’s assistance programmes for cash-strapped neighbouring countries desperately needing such assistance, India shall earn the long-term goodwill of its immediate neighbours and across Indian ocean countries. It is in line with India’s neighborhood first initiative.

An advantage over the Chinese: China recently offered its vaccines to Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh as it held a multilateral dialogue with the four countries and Pakistan on anti-epidemic prevention.
Early shipment from India in these countries could help counter China’s vaccine and mask diplomacy in its neighbourhood.

Leverage over western countries: While the affluent western world, notably the US and Europe, are focused almost exclusively on their own problems, India is being appreciated for helping its neighbours and developing countries, who could not afford US and European vaccines.

Make India global supply center: Beyond India’s immediate neighbours, South Korea, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and South Africa have all shown inclinations to purchase vaccines from India which is estimated to be 60% of the global supply of inoculants.

Boost Pharma Manufacturing in India: India can become the pharmacy of the world. If Indian vaccines help developing countries to meet their urgent needs, they can become the future long term destination for market expansion of Indian pharma.

Help in reviving the economy: If India becomes the manufacturing hub for corona vaccines across the world, it shall give a boost to the GDP of India.

Rescue from the cold war over vaccine:
The US-China cold war has been accused of making the distribution of vaccines “political football”, which caused the inordinate delay in commencing the inoculation programmes by WHO. Thus, the early shipment of vaccines by India is seen as a rescue from this bipolar tussle.

Earning moral right:
India’s vaccine distribution comes at a time when WHO director-General has criticised the moral corruption of drug manufacturers from rich countries for delaying the distribution of vaccines and targeting shipments to rich countries only. This could help India have a moral right to have greater say in international forums.

Disrupts vaccine nationalism:
Vaccine Nationalism is the mechanism through which a country manages to secure doses of vaccines for its own citizens or residents and prioritises its own domestic markets before they are made available in other countries through pre-purchase agreements with a vaccine manufacturer.

The major drawback of vaccine nationalism is that it puts countries with fewer resources and bargaining power at a disadvantage. India’s intervention by making vaccines available to needy countries disrupted the vaccine nationalism.

Facilitating global collaboration:
India’s vaccine supply could cater greatly to the global collaboration which is being done through the WHO-backed COVAX Facility mechanism.

Way Forward:
India needs to balance its domestic needs with diplomatic commitments. The vaccination drive in India commenced in January 2021 is going to be the World’s Largest Vaccination Program. India has the challenge that while it distributes the vaccine to the world, it should ensure the much-needed vaccine supply to those in India who cannot afford it.

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