Fire at the Serum Institute of India . . .
A fire broke out today at the Serum Institute of India (SII) in Pune, the largest COVID-19 vaccine production site in the world. SII CEO Adar Poonawalla said the fire, which killed five people, will not affect vaccine production. India is currently rolling out the largest COVID-19 vaccination campaign globally, aiming to vaccinate 300 million people by August. Two vaccines have received emergency approval in India: Oxford/AstraZeneca’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, India’s own vaccine. Many people in India have been hesitant to get the Covaxin vaccine, as it is still in phase 3 human trials, and a full dataset on its efficacy has not been released or peer-reviewed.
‘Pharmacy of the World’ begins to export . . .
Not only does India have an ambitious domestic vaccine rollout, but it has also committed to providing vaccines to other countries in South Asia. On Wednesday, it officially began exporting the Covishield vaccine, providing approximately 150,000 doses to Bhutan and about 100,000 to the Maldives. Bangladesh is set to receive two million doses on Thursday, and Nepal, Myanmar, and the Seychelles are said to be next in line for doses this week. Many of India’s neighbours said they are relying on India’s vaccine exports to start COVID-19 immunization programs and bring an end to their outbreaks.
Countering China’s influence in South Asia . . .
These vaccine shipments are being provided free of charge, drawing praise from India’s neighbours and multilateral institutions such as the UN. However, some observers are framing this overture as a strategic move to counter China’s influence in the region. China and India have recently been vying for influence in countries such as Nepal, where India’s influence has waned, and China’s has grown. However, India’s gift of one million Covishield doses to Nepal will most likely improve the strained ties between the two countries. A government source revealed that India is prepared to provide approximately 12-to-20 million doses to its neighbours over the next three to four weeks. Retired Indian ambassador, Rajiv Bhatia, said of India’s vaccine export strategy, “This is our moment to shine.”