India must step up to the vaccination challenge
The Carbis Bay communiqué of the G7, the seven richest countries led by the US, fails to show western leadership of the kind its leaders avow, on the world’s battle against Covid19. While pledging to beat the pandemic, the G7 have come up with an extra one billion vaccine doses, over and above the one billion already promised. India has the responsibility to ensure that the world’s poorest are not left behind.
The G7’s target of achieving global herd immunity by the end of 2022 is disappointing. It will mean that poor developing countries, particularly those with no access to vaccine manufacturing facilities, will have to wait longer, leading to the possible rise of new variants, even vaccine resistant ones. The world requires roughly between 12 to 14 billion doses to ensure that all eligible adults are vaccinated globally. Till date a little over 2.33 billion vaccine doses have been administered, of these less than 1% have been in the poor countries. While the UN secretary general came out in support of the India-South Africa TRIPS waiver proposal, the G7 remained divided. The leaders merely agreed to “engage constructively” at the WTO. The leaders of the richest and most advanced economies agreed to support manufacturing in low-income countries for equitable access to vaccines. This should be the opening that India seizes. Even as it pursues negotiations at the WTO, India should roll out a plan to share the technology and knowhow for its indigenously developed vaccines such as Covaxin. At home, the government has offered to share the technology with vaccine manufacturers with a Bio Safety Level 3-compliant lab. It must now take this offer to countries in Africa and Latin America. It must augment vaccine production at home as well, not just to meet domestic demand but to be able to provide vaccines, as grants and exports, to countries that require it.
Defeating Covid is critical to economic recovery as well. Vaccination and investment in healthcare offer the best possible way. The world will always be one wave away from a health disaster.