If you didn’t know already, India is breaking world records every day. And no, these are not records that should be celebrated.
After reporting 1.52 lakh fresh COVID cases on 10 April, India recorded 1.7 lakh the very next day. And with looming lockdowns in states likes Maharashtra and even in the capital, we are going to continue to see a spike in cases for the next few weeks.
The only weapon we have been equipped with so far against this raging virus for the past few months is vaccines. India started its vaccinations drive in January this year and our journey was steadily picking up pace and going smoothly. However, just 3 months into inoculations, that journey has ran into trouble.
Multiple states have reported shortages of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine. And that's because we have a third of humanity depending on only a single manufacturer for a vaccine - the Serum Institute of India in Pune.
However, the Centre has dismissed the SOSes from states and has stated that there is no vaccine shortage. But it has also gone a step ahead and halted exports of Covishield to other countries. A behavior that is now being termed "vaccine nationalism".
So what is the issue that we are facing? Because if there is no shortage, the Centre is knocking vaccination drives of dozens of countries off course.
The central narrative underpinning the problems that we are witnessing right now is regarding the notoriously complex problem of vaccine manufacturing and distribution and the relationship between pharmaceutical companies, a country, and its citizens.
My guests for today’s podcast are Achal Prabhala, the coordinator of the AccessIBSA project, which campaigns for access to medicines in India, Brazil, and South Africa, and Leena Menghaney, an Indian lawyer who has worked for two decades on pharmaceutical law and policy.