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India, the world vaccine factory

India starts with many meters of advantage in the gold rush of the vaccine: the Asian giant is in first place in the world in the sector, with 60% of world production and 1.5 billion doses baked every year, destined for over 150 countries. Committed at home to the largest vaccination plan on the planet, Narendra Modi and his men know well they are acting on a stage that goes far beyond the internal emergency.

On a national level, moreover, the vaccination campaign is proceeding slowly also due to the constant decline in infections recorded in recent months.

Business is business

On a political level, there is no doubt that the emergency offers India a unique opportunity to expand its sphere of influence, but the promise of guaranteeing low-cost vaccines to the poorest nations clashes with a scenario in which the main actors think primarily to make cash. Over the years the Indian pharmaceutical industry has transformed, ending up obeying more and more the logic that guides the strategies of the large multinationals. A new entrepreneurial culture has now established itself in the country. And for an increasingly westernized drug industry, it is unthinkable to give up the huge profits insured by vaccines.

While the New Delhi government is well aware that it can draw new strength at the international level from the crisis, it is struggling to stem the economic interests of companies that operate on the world stage as real superpowers. In short, those who expected India to play the role of a new Robin Hood in the global response to Covid-19 were at least partially disappointed. While the image of India, the world’s largest pharmacy, could be compromised.

Southern countries on the waiting list

The result is that the richest countries – around 12% of the world’s population – have grabbed 70% of global vaccine production until the end of 2021. The countries of the South have no choice but to line up and wait for theirs to come. turn, unless we negotiate onerous bilateral agreements and end up paying double or triple the doses, as South Africa and Uganda have already done. And if it is true that the responsibility for what is happening certainly does not fall exclusively on the Indian giant, it cannot be ignored how the companies of the world’s leading vaccine manufacturer have ended up indulging the appetites of the best bidders. Also, becoming a privileged supplier of the West ensures a better return not only economically, but also political.

To avoid an uncontrolled race to profit, a large coalition of representatives and organizations of Indian civil society had already launched, at the end of June 2020, an appeal to the government asking for universal access to the vaccine and other treatments: “While several government research institutes, pharmaceutical companies and universities around the world – including India – are engaged in a race to develop vaccines, therapies and diagnostic tools against Covid-19, as concerns about the accessibility, cost and availability of these products for the most vulnerable people and communities in developing countries “. According to the signatories of the letter, the health emergency requires the pharmaceutical industry to move from ‘ business as usual’- made up of expensive patents and jealousy reserved data – and for the sharing of knowledge, so that the progress of science can benefit all of humanity.

From father to son: The Serum Institute and vaccine diplomacy

While the pharmaceutical industry is PAN India meaning spread across India, there are still those who have benefited more than others from the health emergency mainly the Poonawalla family. Cyrus founded the Serum Institute 54 years ago. By number of doses sold – 1.5 billion per year – the company is the world’s leading manufacturer of vaccines, as well as the main supplier to developing countries. Until a few months ago, the face of the younger Poonawalla, Adar, was almost unknown outside the Indian subcontinent. Now, the spotlight of the Western media has also turned on him.

Adar and his father Cyrus – who at 79 is still president of the company – have decided to take advantage of the extraordinary situation to obtain the vaccine production license of the Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca, making it valid on the market while the international community is not yet able to answer the question of the South of the world. In the programs of the Serum Institute there is the expansion in the European and American markets thanks to competitive prices. The real challenge is to break down the barrier erected by Western pharmaceutical companies with patents and licenses.

But in full emergency, landing in new markets turned out to be easier than expected. Following a perfect political-diplomatic combination, the Serum Institute was tasked with delivering 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada. The expenses, this time, were kindly covered by the Indian government, which with this move intended to ease the tensions that have recently arisen with Ottawa. The spark was ignited when the Canadian Prime Minister Justine Trudeau, with an unwelcome invasion of the field, expressed his concern at the protest of Indian farmers, camped for months in the suburbs of New Delhi. A phone call with his counterpart Modi and the offer of vaccines made in India – impossible to refuse – were enough to repair the tear.

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