‘Together we fight, together we win’
The author is Indian ambassador to Seoul.
On Oct. 21, India reached the historic milestone of 1 billion Covid-19 vaccinations. With this, 75 percent of India’s 940 million adult population has received the first dose of the vaccine and 31 percent both doses of the vaccine. These vaccines are being given free of cost at public vaccination facilities to all those resident in India, Indian and foreigners. We are focussed on completing the vaccination of the entire adult population by end-2021.
This is a remarkable achievement by any standards. India reached this mark less than 40 weeks after the programme began on Jan. 16, 2021. This has been achieved by harnessing India’s strengths and capacity across multiple fronts: state-of-the-art vaccine infrastructure, reputed companies like Serum Institute of India, Bharat Biotech, Zydus Cadila, Biological E, etc who have engaged in research and development and entered into licensing partnerships with global vaccine companies, dedicated healthcare workers and volunteers who have taken on this challenge, and excellent coordination between central and regional Governments, public and private agencies alike, with oversight provided at the highest political levels, particularly by Prime Minister Modi.
The foundation for this remarkable success was laid as early as April 2020, when it became apparent that the battle against Covid-19 would be long-drawn out. India launched Mission Covid Suraksha to provide financial and technical support to Indian vaccine manufacturers. This was instrumental in the development of Zycov-D, the world’s first DNA-based Covid vaccine, which will protect children as young as 12. Leading Indian vaccine companies were encouraged to pursue research on multiple technology platforms and consequently, India has been able to create a basket of vaccines: Covaxin (an inactivated virus vaccine), Covishield (a viral vector vaccine), Gennova (an mRNA vaccine) etc. Based on expedited emergency procedures applied by the Indian regulator, three made-in-India vaccines — Astra Zeneca’s Covishield manufactured by Serum Institute of India, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Sputnik — are being used in India’s vaccination program.
Along with the focus on supply, India has given attention to delivery. Given India’s federal structure, this called for comprehensive planning and careful coordination. Some 313,000 Covid vaccination centres were set up across the country, 74 percent of which are at rural locations and account for 65 percent of total coverage. The experience and infrastructure of the Universal Immunisation Programme came in handy: Vaccines were stored at 29,000 cold storage points, delivered to the vaccination centres in temperature controlled vehicles and supply lines managed using smart digital technology.
Finally, certification. CoWIN, India’s digital Covid vaccine platform, enables registration of beneficiaries, scheduling of vaccinations and generation of QR code-based certificates. It provides real-time data on implementation, invaluable for calibrating supplies across the country.
In the coming months, India, already a global vaccine production hub, that supplies 50 percent of the world’s vaccines, will step up production of Covid-19 vaccines, with an eye on helping the world secure access to safe and effective vaccines. India’s monthly Covid vaccine output will touch 300 million doses by end-October. In 2022, under the QUAD Vaccine Partnership, 1 billion doses of Janssen’s vaccine will be manufactured in India by Biological-E and supplied to the Indo-Pacific region. The recent K-vaccine initiative announced by President Moon Jae-in seeks to overcome future infectious diseases crises by making ROK one of the top 5 vaccine manufacturers by 2025. The time is right for Indian and Korean vaccine manufacturers to join hands to scale up production, especially by tapping India’s superb manufacturing infrastructure. They should collaborate on supply chain and logistics management and provide a back-up production ecosystem to obviate the risk of future supply chain disruptions, for all vaccines, Covid-19 as well as other endemic diseases. Our governments can find ways of synergising our respective development cooperation projects in third countries so that this global public good is made available to all countries, including the smaller and less prosperous one that lack the resources and leverage to secure affordable supplies. This is a time for the India-ROK partnership to benefit all of humanity and achieve our vision of “One Earth, One Health.”