By Taranjit Singh Sandhu/Houston Chronicle
Houston, March 4: As the number of Omicron cases continues to decrease in the United States and life is beginning to feel more normal, the possibility of yet newer variants of coronavirus reminds us of the continued threat that the pandemic presents to the world. The fight against the global pandemic and restoration of normalcy will require effective international collaboration. Vaccination appears to be one of the most effective tools in containing COVID-19 and reducing the chances of another major outbreak.
India has administered more than 1.78 billion doses of the vaccines. More than 95 percent of India’s eligible population has received one COVID-19 dose and more than 74 percent are fully vaccinated. Health care workers at more than 313,000 vaccination centers across the country were instrumental. This is a significant development not just for India, but for the world, given our joint efforts for equitable vaccine access across countries.
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As two vibrant democracies, India and the United States have played an especially crucial role in containing the pandemic. U.S. institutions and Indian vaccine companies have been closely cooperating to develop reliable and affordable COVID-19 vaccines. The Baylor College of Medicine in Houston collaborated with India’s Biological E on the Corbevax vaccine. Created by a team of scientists led by Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi, Corbevax is cost effective, patent-free and has been approved in India for emergency use. The Serum Institute of India and Maryland-based firm Novavax produced Covavax (which has received WHO approval). Merck’s COVID-19 drug Molnupiravir is being produced by Indian companies for up to 35 times a lower cost.
In India’s vaccination progress, there are three lessons for the global fight against COVID-19:
First, India’s efforts and experience can help inform and accelerate COVID-19 inoculation efforts around the globe, including in the developing world. India put in place an effective vaccination program against the backdrop of a complex geography and a large population base. Early on, India’s political leadership focused on creating administrative structures to steer vaccine development and ensuring a smooth working environment for vaccine manufacturers and delivery. Then India made sure those vaccines reached its people through the Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network to strengthen and monitor the cold-chain network, and the CoWIN platform that simplified accessibility and registration for vaccines. Drones delivered vaccines to even the most remote corners of the country.
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Second, at a time when the world is in need of COVID-19 vaccines, India’s ability to deliver vaccines within its country enhances its potential to deliver vaccines globally. India’s production capabilities, experience and human resources can make a difference in delivering affordable vaccines to the rest of the world’s citizens, nearly 40 percent of whom are yet to receive even a single dose. As India continues to make progress against COVID-19 on the domestic front, it has ramped up its export of vaccines to other countries, including through the COVAX initiative. This will make a significant impact and help bring the pandemic to an end.
Finally, India’s achievement in vaccinations reflects the potential of global partnerships in addressing public health threats and other shared challenges. India’s vaccine rollout has been aided by raw materials from U.S. The support that India received from countries including U.S. in tackling the second wave of the pandemic was important in bringing the situation under control and in focusing our energy toward accelerated vaccine production.
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U.S. and India, along with Japan and Australia, are committed to the Quad Vaccine Initiative, which envisages expanded manufacturing of at least 1 billion COVID- 19 vaccines in India by the end of 2022 and making these available to countries in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. Under the initiative, Johnson & Johnson from the U.S. and Biological E from India are working together. At the World Trade Organization, the U.S and India are working along with other countries for a TRIPS intellectual property waiver for COVID vaccines.
Going forward, there are immense opportunities for wider India-U.S. collaboration in the health sector to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future public health threats. Further cooperation can be achieved in areas such as infectious disease modelling, prediction and forecasting, as well as building institutional capacity for the management of biosafety, digital health and occupational health hazards. Guided by the ancient Indian philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam — “the world is one family” — and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of “One Earth, One Health,” India is committed to working with the U.S. and other partners in the international community to defeat this pandemic.
(Taranjit Singh Sandhu is an Indian diplomat and the current Ambassador of India to the United States).
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