India announced a gift of 2,00,000 doses of vaccine to the U.N. Peacekeeping Forces on Wednesday.
The announcement was made by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during his remarks at a U.N. Security Council open debate on the implementation of resolution 2532 (2020), passed last year, noting the impact of COVID-19 globally and calling for the cessation of hostilities around the world to help combat the pandemic. The debate was attended by the Foreign Ministers of UNSC member countries.
“Keeping in mind the U.N. Peacekeepers who operate in such difficult circumstances, we would like to announce today a gift of 2,00,000 doses for them,” Mr. Jaishankar said. The Minister said India had already sent vaccines to 25 countries under its Vaccine Maitri programme and that 49 more countries would be supplied in the coming days.
Until February 9, India had supplied 62.7 lakh of a total of 167.7 lakh of its vaccines as gifts, the remainder being sent on commercial terms, Minister of State for Health Ashwini Choubey told Parliament last week.
Mr. Jaishankar told his counterparts that COVAX (a global initiative to develop, purchase and deliver vaccines worldwide) would need to be strengthened, to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines. He also called for coordination between countries on “genomic surveillance” (tracking viral mutations) and addressing resistance to vaccines.
“Vaccine-related information must be contextual, empathetic, and culturally sensitive, while providing scientific and accurate facts to allay the fears and concerns of the public,” Mr. Jaishankar said.
However, the government has been criticised for getting ahead of the science. Its approval of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccine for emergency use authorisation in India before its efficacy was established via Phase-III trials had created a stir last month.
At the UNSC on Wednesday, Mr. Jaishankar called for an end to “vaccine nationalism” and the hoarding of vaccines.
“Stop ‘Vaccine nationalism’; indeed, actively encourage internationalism,” he said. “Hoarding superfluous doses will defeat our efforts towards attaining collective health security.”
Several rich countries have ordered more vaccine doses than required for their population, depriving developing economies of access to these doses. Just its orders of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines alone are enough to cover all adults in the U.S., Axios reported recently. This still leaves its orders of AstraZeneca, Novavax and Johnson and Johnson vaccines, which add up to over 500 million more doses.
“There currently exists a glaring disparity in accessibility of vaccines globally. Equity in access to vaccine is important for mitigating the impact of pandemic,” Mr. Jaishankar said, citing a figure of 60 million for the people at risk.
He also highlighted the fact that the pandemic had put at risk regular childhood immunisation programmes, making children vulnerable to diphtheria, measles and polio.
“We simply cannot trade one health crisis for another,” Mr. Jaishankar said, as he called for immunisation programmes to be resumed.