India has supplied 82 countries with domestically made Chinese coronavirus vaccines as of Thursday since launching a vaccine outreach drive in January.
“Since the launch of Vaccine Maitri [Outreach], we have supplied 64 million doses of vaccines to 82 countries. This includes supplies under a grant, commercial contracts, and the COVAX facility,” Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla said at a press conference on March 30.
COVAX refers to the “COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] Vaccines Global Access” program, a global initiative spearheaded by the World Health Organization to provide vaccines against the Chinese coronavirus to poorer nations.
New Delhi began its “Vaccine Maitri” on January 20, four days after India’s health ministry launched a domestic Chinese coronavirus vaccine drive. India currently manufactures two Chinese coronavirus vaccines: one developed by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company Astra-Zeneca and another developed by the state-run Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research. New Delhi exported its first batch of the shots to the Maldives and Bhutan, followed shortly afterward by shipments to Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, and Fiji.
The Serum Institute of India, which produces the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer and is expected to produce the majority of Chinese coronavirus vaccines used in less developed nations through India’s outreach drive.
“Of the more than 12 billion coronavirus vaccine doses being produced this year, rich countries have already bought about 9 billion, and many have options to buy even more. This means that [India’s] Serum Institute, which has been contracted by AstraZeneca to make a billion doses, is likely to make most of the shots that’ll be used by developing nations,” the Associated Press noted in January.
“India’s vaccine initiative is expected to get a booster shot, with Quad countries – India, US, Australia, Japan – agreeing after the first leadership summit in March that India’s vaccine manufacturing capacity will be increased to produce more doses for the Indo-Pacific region,” India’s WION reported on March 31. The “Quad” refers to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a strategic diplomatic and military alliance designed to counter increased Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
India’s vaccine outreach serves as the Quad’s latest challenge to China’s growing presence in the Indo-Pacific, where Beijing has shipped its own Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine candidates to several developing countries in the region.
China views its own vaccine export drive “as a way to raise the profile of its medical products,” according to Voice of America. “Before the coronavirus pandemic, Chinese pharmaceutical companies rarely qualified to provide medical products to international agencies. In 2019, China accounted for only 1.9 percent of the total purchases of medical products made by the United Nations while rival India accounted for 21.9 percent.”