How India’s COVID Surge is Fueling the Vaccine Diplomacy Debate

Who gets to decide which country gets which vaccine?

Devanshi Patel

April 29, 2021

How India’s COVID Surge is Fueling the Vaccine Diplomacy Debate
COVID ward inside a banquet hall, on April 29, 2021 (Tauseef Mystafa, Getty Images)

Earlier this week, after a weekend of deliberations with Indian officials, the U.S. announced a host of COVID-19 assistance to the country. The announcement comes after mounting pressure from the Indian public, the head of the Serum Institute of India — the world’s largest vaccine maker — and the Indian American diaspora. In a briefing on April 27, U.S. President Joe Biden said the U.S. would send remdesivir, PPE, and other supplies that facilitate COVID recovery, redirect one of its own orders of AstraZeneca manufacturing components, and supply prepared doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to India. A White House press briefing stated, “We remember India’s generosity to the United States in the early days of the pandemic, when India offered medications to us as our hospitals were strained. And the U.S. and India have been partners on global health for seven decades.”

India’s current coronavirus surge — which has left 20,172 dead this past week alone (10% of the total figure for India, though experts believe that the actual death toll could be two to five times that number), overburdened hospitals, and led to a deadly shortage of oxygen supplies — is highlighting the disparity between countries like the U.S., or U.K. where, by this week, 42-49% of their populations will have received at least one vaccine dose, and many developing nations. Only 0.6% of Nigeria, for example, the seventh-most populous country, has received one vaccine dose (the Serum Institute of India manufactured its 4 million doses). And India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has given only 8.8% of its population one vaccine dose. Reports estimate that, while the U.S. could see 100% of its residents fully vaccinated by the end of the summer, at the current rate, some countries in Africa and Latin America won’t see the same result until 2023