India turns around COVID-19 diplomacy with Team Biden, vaccine drive set to speed up

India needs to vaccinate 1.3 billion people against COVID-19. Not once, but twice over. Let’s do some random math.

Each dose of 0.3 ml multiplied by 2.3 billion means 7.8 lakh litres of vaccine. An average bucket holds 10 litres. So, we are looking at 78,000 bucket fun of the Covid vaccine. If those buckets are arranged in a gap of just one metre each, the queue will reach from Parliament in the National Capital to Meerut nearly 78 km away.

In short, it is an unthinkably massive exercise.

The Narendra Modi government has been criticised for getting off to a slow start, vaccinating only the frontline workers and then the older population.

But as soon as it managed to streamline supply, it opened it to those above 18. Not just that, the Centre has now opened the option for states to procure additional vaccines and medicines directly from the manufacturers.

Now, this has been used to spread fake news that the vaccines are being sold to states at a differential price, the Modi government has washed its hands of responsibility and suchlike.

Those are patently false. The Centre is buying 50 percent of the manufacturers’ stock and distributing it to the states based on need. The rest 50 percent has been liberated for the states and corporations, for instance, to buy and supplement their stock.

So, if vaccine production increases (which hopefully will happen as manufacturers are incentivised by pricing flexibility), so will the availability for states.

The poor are anyway getting vaccinated for free. Those who can afford it should pay.

Corporate-driven vaccination will also be mostly free for the workforce. It is in the companies’ enlightened self-interest to vaccinate their employees and their families quickly for better productivity. Such corporate vaccinations will also help the states.

Profit drives investment and investments will drive production. If vaccine makers see an opportunity for profit they will invest more and ramp up the output. Simple capitalism.

States levy taxes on alcohol and other ‘sin’ goods. They can impose a temporary cess to recoup vaccination expenses if they want to vaccinate people for free.

Lastly, money will flow more freely from philanthropists now.

Moreover, India seems to have taken its biggest ally, the US, on its side after President Joe Biden's initial bout of selfishness and reluctance to help. After National Security Advisor Ajit Doval spoke to his counterpart Jake Sullivan on Sunday, the latter tweeted: “Spoke today with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval about the spike in COVID cases in India and we agreed to stay in close touch in the coming days. The United States stands in solidarity with the people of India and we are deploying more supplies and resources.”

“The US is deeply concerned by the severe COVID outbreak in India. We are working around the clock to deploy more supplies and support to our friends and partners in India as they bravely battle this pandemic,” Sullivan informed. “The United States is working around the clock to deploy available resources and supplies. The United States has identified sources of specific raw material urgently required for Indian manufacturer of the Covishield vaccine that will immediately be made available for India.”

That was followed by the tweet of the president himself, acknowledging India’s help at the time of America’s grave crisis.

Even Vice President Kamala Harris echoed him.

With a massive boost in Covid diplomacy and a string of new vaccines like Sputnik set to roll out in the market soon, India looks set to accelerate arguably the largest vaccination drive of the planet. Naysayers may be left with straws of falsehood and negativity to clutch on to.