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Coronavirus Chaos

Could India Vaccinate the World Against Coronavirus?

Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2
This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (orange)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (green) cultured in the lab. Credit: NIAID-RML.

Much like the United States and China, India also has high aspirations to become the go-to country for coronavirus vaccines.

It appears that the nation of 1.4 billion is well on its way to achieving that.

According to the consulting firm Deloitte, India will rank second only to the United States in terms of coronavirus vaccine production this year. PS Easwaran, a partner at Deloitte India, has confirmed that more than 3.5 billion coronavirus vaccine doses could be made in the country in 2021, compared to roughly four billion in the United States.

Meanwhile, Chinese government officials have been on the record saying that it has a capacity of one billion doses for this year.

India Is a Vaccine Powerhouse

India’s success in the vaccine front really shouldn’t come as any surprise, as most of the world’s vaccines have long come from the South Asian country. Even before the pandemic struck about a year ago, India was producing up to about 60 percent of the world’s vaccines.

“India has been a manufacturing hub for vaccines … even before the pandemic, and should therefore be a strategic partner in the global inoculation against COVID-19,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a report last month.

Poorer countries around the globe are indeed increasingly relying on non-Western nations like India and China to fill their vaccine needs, as richer countries have already scooped up the vast majority of vaccines developed in the United States and Europe.

In order to hit the ambitious global herd-immunity goal of 70 percent vaccination rate, the world needs roughly ten billion doses.

In an effort to help reach that important milestone, New Delhi has already supplied 15.6 million doses to seventeen countries—and more are on the way, according to India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava.

India has also approved shipments of coronavirus vaccines to Cambodia and plans to supply Mongolia and Pacific Island states, officials said over the past weekend, as COVID supplies arrived in Afghanistan.

India, which plans to inoculate three hundred million of its own citizens by August, has given potentially life-saving doses to Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives as part of its Vaccine Friendship initiative.

Moreover, transporting India’s vaccines has been found to be cheaper and easier because they only require normal refrigeration.

In contrast, those produced by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, which tap into newer, less-proven technology that targets the virus’ spike protein using RNA, need to be kept in extremely cold temperatures of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit, while those manufactured by Moderna have to be stored at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some industry practitioners have said that vaccines that use inactivated viruses may potentially be safer than the newer mRNA vaccines.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

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Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV.

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