As the Omicron variant of coronavirus raises concerns globally due to its worryingly high number of mutations, the Indian government says it stands ready to support the countries affected in Africa.
The government announced plans to supply Made-in-India vaccines through COVAX or bilaterally. A statement released by the Ministry of External Affairs on November 29 said that the central government has cleared all orders placed so far by COVAX for supplies of COVISHIELD vaccines including to African countries such as Malawi, Ethiopia, Zambia, Mozambique, Guinea and Lesotho.
"Any new requirement projected either bilaterally or through COVAX will be considered expeditiously," it added.
India has also cleared supplies of COVAXIN to Botswana.
To provide further respite the government said that it also stands ready to supply essential life-saving drugs, test kits, gloves, PPE kits and medical equipment such as ventilators, as may be required.
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.
"Indian institutions would favourably consider cooperation in genomic surveillance and virus characterization related research work with their African counterparts," the release added.
The new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, first detected in South Africa, was designated as a Variant of Concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which named it Omicron.
Meanwhile, in a speech made via videolink to a China-Africa summit near Senegal's capital Dakar, President Xi Jinping said that China would donate 600 million doses directly.
A further 400 million doses would come from other sources, such as investments in production sites, which are sorely lacking across much of Africa.
Xi's promise comes as part of a forum between China and African states with an emphasis on trade and security, among other issues, held in the city of Diamniadio near Senegal's seaside capital, reported news agency AFP.So far India has supplied more than 25 million doses of Made-in-India vaccines to 41 countries in Africa, including nearly 1 million doses as grant to 16 countries and more than 16 million doses under the COVAX facility to 33 countries.