depending on dwarfs

Some Indians have been asking the government “Why did you send vaccines meant for our children abroad?”

It’s common knowledge that when Serum Institute of India (SII) agreed to produce the millions of vaccines the world needed last year there were certain licensing agreements with AstraZeneca, UK.

One of them was the WTO’s stipulation that 84% (not sure of this number) of the manufactured vaccine was to go to the COVAX Facility for distribution to low- and middle-income countries, ninety-two of them.

1.1 billion vaccines were apparently manufactured last year on these terms. So the vaccines sent abroad were not the ones “meant for our children”.

The picture is different this year. India has millions of cases and needs millions of vaccines. So India has had to renege on the deal to supply vaccines to COVAX countries. For a while, the country did gamely try to live up to being ‘pharmacy of the world’ . . .

The CEO of SII, Adar Poonawalla, is unable to scale up vaccine production because he does not have the raw materials. They are apparently sourced from 300 different suppliers across 30 different countries, and a typical vaccine manufacturing plant uses 9000 different materials (Indian Express, 30th April 2021)! The US and European restrictions on raw materials have hit production, yet he is under threat to somehow deliver!

Reminds me of the fairy tale ‘Rumpelstiltskin’. It’s like Mr. Poonawalla has been locked up in a palace in a room filled with bales of hay and asked – under threat of death – to spin the hay into gold like the miller’s daughter in the story! He’s waiting for the dwarf to come and work his magic, the dwarf being the US and Europe.

Everybody knows that we need international help to scale up vaccine production in the country: raw materials and patent waivers. The former has apparently been sorted out and the latter is in the process of being sorted out, if news media are to be believed.

As it is getting increasingly obvious that ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’ it does make more sense for the world to pool its resources. However, by the time all the petty little quibbles are set aside and the bureaucratic machinery of each country is set in motion to let SII have the raw materials it needs, there could be more B.1.617 variants moving rapidly through the air, infecting more and more of the world.

World leaders have already talked about this possibility, so why are they dragging their feet on it?

2 thoughts on “depending on dwarfs

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