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By: Charvak DP 2
With the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic, vaccines are now more important than ever. This introduces a new facet of international relations in the global economy - vaccine diplomacy. This form of diplomacy will only grow in importance from this point forth and India is ready to take full advantage of it. Vaccine diplomacy is essentially a way for countries to build and/or strengthen relations with other nations using vaccines. This is only possible for countries that have the capability to produce the vaccines on a large scale, or for those that have the rights to the formula of the vaccine. Licensing these rights can be used to build new relations, but the refusal of this could mean a blatant statement that one nation is against the other. Countries that have strong manufacturing centers for vaccines could exclusively distribute them to nations that they have good ties with or want to create good ties with. This is the idea behind vaccine diplomacy, and India is currently in the perfect position to wield power and gain global significance as the hub of vaccine manufacturing and possibly development.
Firstly, how does a nation gain the access to vaccines in the first place? In order to trade them for whatever purpose, a country must first have a large supply of the vaccine or the means to produce it. India is a rapidly growing presence in the global pharmaceutical industry. It occupies approximately 20% of the global market for generic drugs by volume and caters to over 62% of global vaccine demand. This means that India already has the means of production and is a globally trusted source of pharmaceutical products. The first step to take with vaccine diplomacy is to use the global demand for the COVID-19 vaccine to the country’s advantage. The only obstacle is gaining access to the formula of a working vaccine. Fortunately, we have our own firms researching a potential vaccine, as well as institutes abroad willing to share the components of the vaccine so that we may begin manufacturing it. One such institute is Oxford. While we have not received approval to manufacture their vaccine, we have been given the go ahead to begin testing it, which, if proven to be successful enough, will likely result in India getting the rights to manufacture and distribute the vaccine. In addition to this, Indian firms like Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadila are working to develop a vaccine of their own to help combat COVID-19.
On the 15th of August 2020, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, announced that India was ready to produce COVID-19 vaccines for domestic consumption as soon as the vaccines get approved. One of the first steps India will take with this vaccine is mending a frayed relationship with Bangladesh. Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan has stated that India will follow a “Neighbourhood First Policy” with the vaccine, which means that the domestically produced vaccine will first go to its neighbouring countries - Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, and only after that will India supply the vaccine to other nations that need it. This also provides India a way to establish dominance over China in the global pharmaceutical industry. China has made similar deals with Bangladesh regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and will most likely be able export it sooner than India as they have had more time to recuperate from the virus. However, China is currently not trusted in many regards by nations across the world due in part to the spread of the virus itself, and was never a largely trusted source in the global pharmaceutical industry.
In essence, this is an opportunity for India to gain more international significance in the global pharmaceutical industry as well as establish political dominance over its long time rival China in the pharmaceutical industry.
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