COVID-19 surge and diplomacy of vaccine

Col BS Nagial (Retd)
Presently, India is reeling under the devastating effect of the COVID-19 surge.On April 24, India recorded 3,46,786 new cases of COVID-19 in a daily high. With 3,46,786 people testing positive out of 17,53,569 tests in the last 24 hours, India’s total Covid-19 tally reached 1,66,10481. The number of deaths recorded in 24 hours, 2,624, was also India’s highest ever. With this, the total toll of the country was pushed to 1,89,544.A delicate and uneven healthcare system is withering away. Hospitals have been engulfed and have had to refusemany critical patients. Beds in hospitals are not sufficient. There is an acute need for all kinds of medical supplies.
The government gave mixed signals about the level of risk facing. When cases began to rise again in February this year, the authorities were caught off guard.No one had a long and pragmatic view of the pandemic, according to Pune’s Indian Institute of Science Education and Research. It noted that instead of consolidation of existing hospitals, temporary sites were created. Till the latest sweep, the prevailing thought was keeping in view India’s high population density, it had done a remarkable job curbing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping the death rate comparatively low. The officials of the Govt of India declared victory over COVID-19 too soon. In mid-February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted that India’s “successful fight against Covid-19 is inspiring the entire world.” Authorities lifted most of the lockdown limits intended to check the spread of COVID-19. Poor public health messaging followed, and people lowered their guard, becoming defendants with masking and social distancing conventions. Large gatherings took place, including election rallies, religious festivals, marriage ceremonies.
How the new Covid-19 variants played in spreading this infection is yet to be seen. In particular, questions have been hovering around the B.1.617 variant, which was first spotted in India in October 2020. This B.1.617 variant transmits two mutations E484Q and L452R, both these mutations may support the virus to evade antibodies in the immune system and become partially resistant to one or more vaccines.
The relentless surge in COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks has created considerable uncertainty over the state of the Indian economy. In response to the spurt in cases, several states have begun to impose restrictions on economic activities. On April 22, 2021, Chief Economic Adviser K V Subramanian said the impact of the second wave of COVID-19 on the Indian economy might not be “huge”. He also said predicting the second wave was a real problem for researchers across the globe. Nomura’s India Business Resumption Index fell to 83.8 in the week ending April 18, down from 99.3 a month ago. To put this fall in perspective, the index was at 83.3 in the week ending October 25, 2020, implying that the economy is currently operating at levels last seen around the end of October 2020. Analysts have already begun paring their once ebullient growth estimates for the year. Care Ratings has lowered its growth expectations this year to 10.2 per cent, from 10.7-10.9 per cent earlier. At the same time, economists at SBI have scaled down their projections from 11 per cent to 10.4 per cent.
COVID-19 surge pan India is alarming because the country is a major vaccine manufacturer and an essential supplier to the international COVAX initiative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) initiative to supply medicine to the world’s poorest nations. The rise in cases has forced India to concentrate on satisfying domestic demand for COVID-19 vaccines. India said that it would authorise many new COVID-19 vaccines, but experts said the decision was unlikely to have any immediate impact on supplies available in the country. For now, its focus on domestic demand “means there is very little, if anything, left for COVAX and everybody else,” said Brook Baker, a vaccines expert at Northeastern University in Boston.
The immediate consequence of India’s second wave for the rest of the world is upsetting vaccine supplies. India had anticipated being the world’s pharmacy. However, with case numbers increasing, India has restricted the exports of medicines. During the first half of April, India exportedonly 1.2m doses abroad compared to 64m in the past three months. The Serum Institute of India, a private company that manufactures the AstraZeneca vaccine, has alreadyfailed to keep the commitments to Britain, the European Union. African countries that had been counting on India to provide them with vaccines are looking on in dismay.” The even US refused to supply raw material to SirumInstitue Of India, Pune. And Bharat Biotech. However, now the US has changed its decision.
Nevertheless, what made the US change the decision. Indian National Security Advisor spoke to its counterpart in the US and sent a clear message that if you know a trick of the game, we also know and can play better. India made it very clear that Pfizer’s critical raw material required for manufacturing the COVID-19 vaccine is being manufactured and supplied by an Indian firm based in Mumbai, and if the US does not honour global trade commitments, then India may well pay in same with much more impact.
We must appreciate the two significant aspects of the game. The Indian Prime Minister did not speak to the US president, but only NSA spoke to the American NSA. If America can invoke wartime provisions, then we can also do that. Second, while the US taunted India and went to media, India did not utter a single word regarding this issue. The message is unambiguous; we meant business for business, no-nonsense. While India did not observe this but the world has taken note of it. India has dealt with big brother and wasted no time moving in to take its new position globally.
At the current rate of 2.2mn doses per day, India can only cover 30% population by the end-2021.India’s Pharma Industry is being flooded with deals when the country is in the middle of the second COVID-19 surge. Domestic demand is very high, yet the country has managed to fully immunise just 1.2 per cent of its people with double doses of the vaccines. There are reports of shortages across the country – from Odisha, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.The two Indian manufacturers are producing about 70 million doses a month right now. The country, however, needs around 90 million doses every month to ensure the vaccination drive continues without a glitch.
COVID-19 surge has stunned India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his monthly radio address Sunday, as he appealed to the people of India to get their shots and not be influenced by what he called “any rumour about the vaccine.”Corona is testing our patience; it is testing the limits of all of us at enduring misery.After successfully confronting the first wave of Corona, the country was full of enthusiasm, full of self-confidence, but this storm has shaken the country.Get vaccinated and maintain all precautions. This, too, shall pass. Let us hope for the best.
Under such challenging times, when most of us are busy selling fear and doomsday scenario, vaccine diplomacy is playing in the right direction. We should be proud of our AtmaNirbhar Bharat.