Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said India will need to calibrate its external supplies of coronavirus vaccines keeping in mind its domestic needs as the rise in COVID-19 cases highlighted the need for an accelerated vaccination programme.
In an address at the Ananta Aspen Centre, Shringla also said that the coronavirus crisis has demonstrated that the rise of India as a "self-reliant" partner is good for the world.
Delving into various aspects of vaccine supplies, the foreign secretary said that India is working with some of its partner countries to create secure, resilient and sustainable supply chains for itself and the world at large.
Shringla said that the number of vaccine doses shared with India's partner countries so far is about the same as the number India itself used in its domestic immunisation programme.
"The resurgence of COVID-19 cases has highlighted the need for an accelerated vaccination programme in our country, and from 1st April, we will be extending this facility to all our citizens above the age of 45 years," he said.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
"Naturally, we will need to calibrate our external supplies keeping in mind our domestic production and domestic needs," he added.
India has supplied more than 60 million doses of Made-in-India vaccines to over 75 countries, including through COVAX which is a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
The foreign secretary said that as health security and health supply chains move up on the priority lists of the world, the Indian pharmaceutical industry is perfectly poised to embrace the emerging opportunities.
"The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that the rise of India as an atmanirbhar (self-reliant) partner is good for the world. In this environment, we expect to see more global players cooperating with their Indian counterparts in the pharma and healthcare sectors," he said.
"This is likely to go beyond shifting parts of supply chains to India. We expect to see collaborations, manufacturing and research and development tie-ups in this field," Shringla added.
He was speaking on the launch of a paper, titled 'India: The World's Pharmacy Expands Its Reach in Global Health'.
The foreign secretary also noted that India has the unique advantage of a robust IT and IT services sector to back up the delivery of health services.
In his address, the foreign secretary also referred to a proposal by the Quad member nations to use Indian manufacturing capacity, financed and supported by the other members of the grouping, to supply vaccines to the Indo-Pacific region.
"There is every expectation that the two current manufacturers will rapidly expand their manufacturing capacities to cater to the increasing domestic and external demand," he said.
"Some of the vaccine candidates may also conclude their trial process and become available," he added.
Shringla said supply of coronavirus vaccines to the Indo-Pacific region as proposed by the summit of the Quad leaders will involve the creation of new capacities and it will not impact on India's current vaccine production or roll-out.
Shringla also said the global role played by India in responding to the pandemic and addressing the demand for pharmaceuticals, diagnostics and vaccines is an excellent demonstration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's broader vision of 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' (self-reliant India).
He said India took the lead in initiating and participating in regional and multilateral consultations to emphasise the need for countries to come together to collectively deal with the pandemic.
"India received the credit for ensuring supply of essential medicines during the critical phase of the pandemic. Delivery of these medicines cemented our reputation as the 'Pharmacy of the World' and as a responsible stakeholder in global health supply chains," he added.India provided medical assistance, like essential drugs, test kits, protection gear etc, to over 150 countries as part of efforts to extend help to them in dealing with the pandemic.