NEW DELHI: India’s Covid diplomacy has moved beyond HCQ and paracetamol to ensure that the country can leverage its position as the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer to be part of the search and distribution of the Covid vaccine.
After sustained conversations with their counterparts in key countries, the government has zeroed in on the Indo-Pacific group to cooperate on looking for a vaccine. The key players have been foreign minister S Jaishankar and foreign secretary Harsh Shringla as well as the Prime Minister’s principal scientific adviser Dr K Vijayaraghavan and the government’s department of biotechnology.
Talking to TOI in an exclusive chat, Vijayaraghavan said, “India will have a voice – even if there is no “Indian” vaccine — in terms of distribution because India’s role in providing vaccines to others will be very important.”
Shringla has continued a sustained and regular conversation with his US counterpart Steve Biegun, as well as officials from Japan, Australia and South Korea, while Jaishankar has added political heft to conversations with US, Israel, the Quad countries, Brazil and South Korea. India, officials said, would work with “like-minded countries” on not only vaccine development, but production and distribution.
Vijayaraghavan says, “Globally there are more than 125 vaccine development programmes today. … of these, 10 are in the first stage, eight in phase two (animal and limited human trials) and two in phase 3 (larger-scale human trials). We will know the results of the phase 3 trials in a few months time.”
Apart from the Oxford University programme where India has a large presence and which is currently the most advanced, getting into phase 3, “There is a programme in the US called Warp Speed which combines phase 1 and 2. Vaccines in these programmes include those by Johnson & Johnson and Merck and others. A Chinese one also going into phase 3. There is an Australian one, also going into phase 3, by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia. That’s not really a vaccine for Covid 19, but it is new kind of BCG vaccine,” Vijayaraghavan said.
Interestingly, while India has a presence in most of the international vaccine development programmes, it has no presence in the two Chinese vaccine programmes.
Vijayaraghavan observes, “The size and extraordinary capability of the Indian vaccine manufacturing effort in bulk are enormous and well appreciated. Apart from the big multinationals, Brazil, Indonesia, China and India have enormous capabilities. India has the largest. So India will not be ignored no matter who makes the vaccine.”