India expects to secure the biggest chunk of the 60 million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that the United States will share globally, two Indian government sources told Reuters, as New Delhi battles a devastating surge in infections.
On Monday, the White House said 10 million doses could be cleared for export "in coming weeks" and the rest by June. It has not revealed potential beneficiaries, but the sources said India could gain the most.
"The wheels of diplomacy and appeals from WHO and top public health experts changed their thinking and now we have the US ready to send vaccines," said one of the sources, an aide to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
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.
The Biden administration had agreed to ship doses to India after initial reluctance, he added.
"We are not sure how many we will receive. All I can say here is, our bowl is the largest and deepest."
Speaking to Reuters after a telephone conversation between Modi and President Joe Biden on vaccine raw materials, the second official said India was lobbying hard to get more than 35 percent of the AstraZeneca doses.
"Our prime minister has been assured that India will be given priority; the ratio of Indian share is being worked out," said the official, who is involved in the negotiations with the US authorities.
"We are also assuring them that once COVID cases decline, we will manufacture and distribute vaccines to other nations," the source added, in line with a pact among the Quad group of nations comprising the US, India, Japan and Australia.
Both officials declined to be named ahead of a formal announcement of beneficiaries by the United States.
Modi's office and India's Ministry of External Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The first source also said the government would help Indian states import vaccines.
"We are facilitating," he added. "Some states have the money and they are willing to pay for it, whether it's for local or imported vaccines."
On Monday, citing two unidentified government officials, Reuters reported the federal government had decided to leave such purchases of foreign vaccines to state authorities and companies.
India, with the world's largest vaccine-making capacity, had donated or exported more than 66 million doses before its own needs jumped because of the surge in infections.
Over the last six days, it has racked up more than 300,000 cases a day, pushing the public health system close to collapse in major cities such as the capital, New Delhi.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.