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Quad summit likely to give big push to India-made vaccines in war on Covid-19

Quad summit likely to give a major thrust to vaccines made in India

The first ever Indo-Pacific Quad summit on Friday is likely to give a major thrust to scaling up India’s efforts to provide affordable vaccines to a larger number of countries for stepping up the war against the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.

The move comes at a time when there is an acute shortage of vaccines worldwide and the poorer countries are unable to secure supplies. India has emerged as the ‘pharmacy of the world’ with the production of two affordable vaccines.

According to a statement issued by the ministry of external affairs, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be participating, along with Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison and Prime Minister of Japan Yoshihide Suga and US President Joseph R. Biden, in the first leaders’ summit of the quadrilateral framework, being held virtually on 12th March.

“The leaders will discuss ongoing efforts to combat Covid-19 pandemic and explore opportunities for collaboration in ensuring safe, equitable and affordable vaccines in the Indo-Pacific region,” the statement said.

India has put up a valiant effort in gifting vaccines to its neighbouring countries to inoculate their frontline workers and also exported stocks worldwide in the ASEAN region, Africa and Latin America to stem the surging Covid-19 tide. 

India has also been successful in neutralising China’s coercive vaccine diplomacy by providing smaller as well as developing countries with an alternative that has no strings attached. As many as 25 countries have already received India-made vaccines and another 49 nations are in the queue.

The Quad meeting is expected to announce financing agreements to support an increase in manufacturing capacity for coronavirus vaccines in India, Reuters news agency cited a senior U.S administration official as saying.

The financing agreements will be between the United States, Japan and others and focus particularly on companies and institutions in India manufacturing vaccines for American drugmakers Novavax Inc and Johnson & Johnson, the official in Washington said.

India contributes to more than 60% of the global vaccine supply and is seen to be well positioned to play a key role in supporting large-scale vaccine production to combat the global pandemic.

The Serum Institute of India, the largest vaccine maker in the world, is manufacturing the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine and also has a licence for producing the Novavax vaccine as well.

Novavax will supply the doses to high-income countries while SII will supply to the majority of the low-middle-income and upper-middle income countries utilising a ‘tiered pricing schedule.’ Majority of the 1.1 billion doses commitment to the WHO-led Covax programme would come from SII’s Pune facility.

Another India pharma company, Biological E Ltd, is looking to contract-manufacture roughly 600 million doses of Johnson and Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine annually.  Biological E managing director Mahima Datla said this would be “in addition to our own product for which we are targeting approximately 1 billion doses."

India’s inoculation drive is currently using the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine made at Serum Institute and the indigenously developed Covaxin by Bharat Biotech with the Indian Council of Medical Research. The wholly indigenous Bharat Biotech vaccine has cleared the phase 3 human trials with 81% efficacy and its production on a bigger scale will come as a major boon to India as well as the rest of the developing world.

Several other vaccines, including Russia's Sputnik V, Cadila Healthcare's ZyCov-D are also expected to be approved for use soon.

Apart from being affordable, Indian vaccines can be stored at ordinary refrigeration temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius making them more practical and easier to handle for developing countries. The western-made Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, on the other hand, are very expensive and have to be stored at -80 degrees Celsius which require costly cold-chain infrastructure that does not exist in most countries.