As a 90-year-old UK granny on Tuesday became the first person in the world to be administered the Covid-19 vaccine – the Pfizer-BioNTech jab ~ the world seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.
While the vaccine may or may not prove to be the silver bullet in preventing humans from contracting the virus, it does add an additional layer of protection to the Holy Trinity of our times ~ Masking, Washing, Distancing.
Meanwhile, the import of what India has done has perhaps not been fully recognised; not on the research and development front where vaccine nationalism has certainly been in focus, but vis-a-vis the implications of New Delhi having purchased more doses of the vaccine than any other country in the world.
India has bought 1.6 billion doses ~ 500 million doses of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca candidate, one billion from the American company Novavax and 100 million doses of the Sputnik V candidate from Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute.
Many are surprised that a developing country like India has bought more doses than high-income countries such as the USA and the UK, and more than EU nations taken together, all of which have in-country vaccine development capacities.
They shouldn’t be. For, as a Duke University report has brought out, New Delhi’s vaccine procurement strategy has successfully leveraged its large manufacturing infrastructure. Rich countries negotiated purchases by investing public funds into vaccine R&D and by using their purchasing power to strike early deals while hedging their bets by buying multiple vaccine candidates. India, with its world-leading manufacturing capacity, has been successful in negotiating large advance market commitments with leading vaccine developers as part of manufacturing agreements.
That’s a win-win situation as it helps MNC pharma keep costs down and enables a middle income nation such as India to procure enough doses to launch a mass immunisation drive.
In a sense, this development is an endorsement of the Prime Minister’s Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign even though a major part of the credit for India’s prowess as a global vaccine manufacturing hub lies with entrepreneurs who over decades fought suffocating socialist-era restrictions and progressive politicians committed to liberalisation in the manufacturing sector.
That it takes a global pandemic to recognise the sense in reform is unfortunate. But those with an a priori commitment to a statist view of the economy also happen to be fully paid-up members of India’s elite who will have no problem accessing the vaccine.
It is because India is the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world that it can use this strength for humanitarian outreach. Geostrategic benefits will follow.
The government’s first step, after completing mass inoculation countrywide, must be to help billions in low-income countries. There could be no better way to be recognised as a global leader.