Centre plans to brief diplomatic corps on efforts to develop Covid-19 vaccines
The interaction will be New Delhi’s first such outreach to the international community on vaccines when countries are eagerly awaiting a successful candidate.Updated: Nov 01, 2020, 13:02 IST
The government will brief the Delhi-based diplomatic corps next week on efforts to develop vaccines for Covid-19 and explore potential partnerships for manufacturing and delivery of vaccines, people familiar with developments said on Saturday.
The briefing, to be done on November 6 by foreign secretary Harsh Shringla, is set to be attended by envoys and senior members of the diplomatic corps. Niti Aayog member VK Paul, union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan and other senior officials are expected to be present at the briefing, being seen as the one of the key Covid-19-related interactions handled by the external affairs ministry this year.
The interaction will be New Delhi’s first such outreach to the international community on vaccines when countries are eagerly awaiting a successful candidate. Officials and diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity said India is also looking for partners to co-produce vaccines so that they can be manufactured faster and distributed on a larger scale.
The Narendra Modi government is set to propose five models for vaccine cooperation with friendly countries and key neighbours, with India having entered late stage trials for two indigenous vaccines and the Oxford AstraZeneca candidate, which will be made by Pune-based Serum Institute of India.
According to top officials involved in finalising these models, New Delhi could offer free supply or trial partnerships to South Asian, European, West Asian, African and Latin American countries for the vaccine to ensure they can ramp up their drive to protect their populations from Covid-19.
The countries will be carefully chosen to include key neighbours, countries where large numbers of Indians are studying or working, and those that have been supportive of India at international forums such as the UN.
The move is also aimed at building on India’s image as a key supplier of pharmaceutical products in the early stages of the pandemic, and to help the country emerge as a major player in the post-Covid-19 world order, the people cited above said. It also fits in with the government’s drive to create resilient and diverse supply and value chains, the people said.
On August 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced India is prepared to mass produce Covid-19 vaccines for domestic consumption once scientists approve the trials. “Not one, not two, as many as three coronavirus vaccines are being tested in India,” he said from the Red Fort in his customary Independence Day speech.
The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is in the third or final phase of trials and is widely considered a frontrunner in the global race to tackle the virus that has already infected 45 million people and resulted in 1.19 million deaths worldwide. The two Indian vaccine candidates – from Zydus-Cadila and Bharat Biotech – have entered the second phase of human trials.
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, recently said trials of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine in India should be over by December and it could be launched in the country in January, subject to UK trials that are on the verge of being completed.
While a large share of vaccines will be used in India, with healthcare workers identified as priority recipients, PM Modi said in his speech to the UN General Assembly in September that the country’s vaccine production and delivery capacity will also be used to help all countries in fighting the pandemic.
“India will also help all countries in enhancing their cold chain and storage capacities for the delivery of vaccines,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said. In this connection, India has organised two training sessions for neighbouring countries that were joined by about 90 health experts and scientists. This programme will be expanded to include other countries.
An Indian delegation visited Dhaka during October 17-19 for discussions on vaccine development in India and modalities for clinical trials in Bangladesh. Officials from India and Myanmar have had a virtual interaction on cooperation on vaccines, and the two sides are expected to decide on modalities.
“In due course, depending on trials in India, we propose to expand our cooperation with other countries also in clinical trials and capacity building for vaccine development, production and delivery,” Srivastava said.
Amid the pandemic, India has provided medicines and medical equipment to more than 150 countries, including grants to 82 countries worth around Rs 80 crore. It also expedited approvals for export of drugs and deployed medical rapid response teams to countries such as Kuwait, the Maldives, Mauritius and Comoros.