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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Failing the test

It took a tsunami of outrage to wake someone up in Washington. India's vaccine diplomacy hurt domestic needs.

By: Editorial |
Updated: April 27, 2021 8:50:08 am
It was reckless of India to give away or sell 66 million vaccines to countries across the world without securing supplies for its own people first.

After a week of empty statements on India’s urgent requirement of raw materials to ramp up vaccine production as it battles a gigantic second wave of COVID, the United States has said it will “rapidly deploy additional support” to this country. But it evidently took a tsunami of outrage from Indians on social media — this time without government provided hashtags — about the hollowness of a strategic partnership that allows the US to so readily abandon an ally, plus the revelation in US media that the country was sitting on a stockpile of 40 million AstraZeneca (Covishield in India) vaccines that were unlikely to be used, and representations by leading experts that the Biden Administration should share these with countries in need. It apparently took all this for US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to step in and clear the air. But a historic opportunity was already lost. In a horrific week in which Indians grappled with ever new peaks of COVID numbers — new infections and deaths — the US seemed to be washing its hands of India’s crisis. It has sparked more questions in India about the several “strategic partnership” agreements between the two countries under the Biden Administration. After all, Trump donated ventilators to India at a time when the pandemic was raging in his country, and Delhi responded by sending hydroxychloroquine on his request.

Just weeks after the upbeat “Quad” summit, at which the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the US pledged to “collaborate to strengthen equitable vaccine access for the Indo-Pacific”, a US State Department spokesman said “it’s not only in our interest to see Americans vaccinated; it’s in the interests of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated”. It should be obvious to all that the virus knows no borders. And that India, with its sharp spike in cases in this wave, poses a global health threat. It is in the interests of the world to ensure that Indians are vaccinated.

It was reckless of India to give away or sell 66 million vaccines to countries across the world without securing supplies for its own people first. Vaccine Maitri was not misplaced as long as it was restricted to countries in the neighbourhood looking to India for help. But shipping out millions of doses to faraway countries whose dependence on India is not as urgent was ill conceived. It only adds to the conclusion that the Indian leadership was so focussed on patting itself on the back for conquering the virus that no one was able to break out of the group think that seemed to have seized the government. Now the “pharmacy of the world” is desperate for vaccines, and medical oxygen. It is far from atmanirbhar.

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