Vaxxing the world is in self-interest

The less virulent nature of Omicron, and talk of Covid becoming endemic, have meant that the focus is now on booster shots and inoculating under-18s. Forgotten, for all practical purposes, is that vaccine coverage in many countries in Africa, West Asia and Asia is extremely low. This inequity in a globalised world is worrisome. The only way of guarding against new variants, which could well be more virulent than Omicron, is by safeguarding the whole world. For the global economy to recover, it is critical that 70% of the population in each country is fully vaccinated by mid-2022.

In the US, Britain and the EU, a booster shot is part of the regimen. Countries like India are rolling out booster shots, while others are doling out a fourth shot. Meanwhile, in Africa, even middle-income countries such as Kenya and Nigeria have less than 10% full inoculation. High-, lower-middle- and low-income countries have a full vaccination rate of 71.5%, 39.5% and 4.89%, respectively. Friday’s WTO mini-ministerial meet sought to tackle this issue, with no resolution yet. The Indian and South African proposal for a waiver on intellectual property rights related to Covid-19 for manufacturing vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, endorsed by 100 countries, has the support of the US that favours negotiations. But the EU, Britain and other high-income countries remain opposed. The EU proposal relies on existing flexibilities in the TRIPS agreement, limiting export restrictions and compulsory licensing. Waiver-supporters argue that manufacturing vaccines involves multiple processes, and securing compulsory licensing for each is arduous.

India must do its bit to bridge the vaccine divide. Even as it pursues the matter at the WTO, it must step up production of indigenous vaccines, ensure its efficacy studies are published in peer-reviewed journals, and provide vaccines to low-income countries as grants or at concessional rates. It can also step up its contribution to WHO’s Covax facility. This is not altruism, but enlightened self-interest.


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