United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on January 28 termed India’s vaccine production capacity as the “best asset” the world has to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The UN chief also called on India to play a major role in the global COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
"I know that in India there is a very high level of production of Indian developed vaccines. We are in contact with Indian institutions for that. We strongly hope that India will have all the instruments that are necessary to play a major role in making sure that a global vaccination is campaign is made possible," Guterres said while addressing reporters in New York.
“I would like to say how much we count on India. I mean, India has one of the most advanced pharmaceutical industries," he said.
"I think that the production capacity of India is the best asset that the world has today. I hope the world understands that it must be fully used," Guterres added.
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.
Responding to a question by news agency PTI, the UN Secretary-General also said that democratisation of access to medicines is an important element of the campaign and appealed for the “licenses to be made available in order for companies around the world to be able to produce some of the vaccines that already exist”.
Guterres’ comments came at a time when India has been gifting lakhs of COVID-19 vaccine doses to multiple countries. On January 28, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that India has gifted over 55 lakh doses to its neighbouring countries and several of those in its extended neighbourhood.
India’s vaccine outreach
Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said that there has been interest in many countries in accessing vaccines from India and that it considers cooperation in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic as its duty.
On January 28, India sent 5 lakh vaccine doses to Sri Lanka and 1 lakh doses to Bahrain as part of grants assistance.
Srivastava said Bhutan has been supplied 1.5 lakh doses so far and Maldives was sent 1 lakh doses. Nepal and Bangladesh were given 10 lakh and 20 lakh doses, respectively. Srivastava said Myanmar received 15 lakh doses, Mauritius 1 lakh doses and Seychelles got 50,000 doses.
"These supplies are based on requests from these countries," Srivastava said.
Srivastava added that India plans to "gift" 1 lakh doses to Oman, 5 lakh doses to CARICOM (Caribbean Community) countries and 2 lakh doses to Nicaragua, over the next few days. The Pacific Island states are also getting 2 lakh doses.
He said commercial exports have taken place to Brazil, Morocco and Bangladesh and further such supplies are likely to be made to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Canada and Mongolia. "Further, we are going to supply 1 crore doses to Africa and 10 lakh to UN health workers under GAVI's COVAX facility," he said.
COVAX is a global initiative to ensure quick and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, regardless of their income level. This month, COVAX had announced that, pending World Health Organization (WHO)'s emergency use listings, nearly 150 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford candidate are anticipated to be available in the first quarter of 2021, via existing agreements with the Serum Institute of India (SII) and AstraZeneca.
Globally, more than 10.10 crore people have been infected by the novel coronavirus so far. The outbreak has caused 21.79 lakh deaths worldwide.
The Joe Biden administration in the United States has also hailed India for sending crucial supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine to a host of South Asian nations, describing India as “a true friend” who is using its pharmaceutical industry to help the global community.
(With inputs from PTI)Click here for Moneycontrol’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic