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Then there’s the issue of vaccine supply. India’s role as a major pharmaceutical producer has been spotlighted during the pandemic; it has provided 20 percent of the world’s generic drugs as well as more than 60 percent of the world’s vaccines, despite having inoculated just 1 percent of its own population against COVID-19.* The country has the capacity to manufacture 70 million doses a month, but even with all of those doses directed toward its domestic needs, they’re not enough to meet the overwhelming demand. At present, India is administering some 3 million doses a day. To protect its population of 1.4 billion, Mukherjee said that rate would need to increase threefold.
Donating doses directly to countries that need them, including India, is a nonstarter for many countries. Most of those that have vaccines don’t have enough of them, and those with an immense surplus, such as the United States, aren’t yet confident enough in their supply to part with the excess.
But these countries can help in other ways. The first is by lifting export controls on the raw materials that are used to produce vaccines. This is what the CEO of the Serum Institute asked of the Biden administration weeks ago. On Sunday, the U.S. government heeded the request, announcing that it would look to immediately provide the raw materials necessary to help India produce the AstraZeneca vaccine, locally known as Covishield, as well as other medical supplies. The British and German governments also pledged their support.
Another option is for countries to support the appeal, put forward by India and South Africa, for the World Trade Organization to temporarily relax patent rights related to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments so that they can be manufactured, without fear of being sued, by countries that are still struggling to inoculate their populations. More than 70 former world leaders and 100 Nobel Prize laureates have appealed to the Biden administration to back the waiver, as have several U.S. lawmakers. “If we want to restore America’s global leadership in the post-Trump era, we should help other countries access the technical know-how they need to manufacture their own vaccines to fight COVID-19,” Senator Chris Murphy, one of the 10 Democratic senators who have called on the Biden administration to back the effort, told me in a statement. “It’s an easy, effective way for the United States to help.”
Read: Joe Biden’s ‘America first’ vaccine strategy
There is a host of other ways for countries to help, irrespective of their resources. Assisting India with its sequencing is one option. Donating the oxygen the country so desperately needs is another.
Though mass vaccination has provided an off-ramp from the pandemic for some countries, India is a stark reminder that, for many others, a long road lies ahead. The world is on track to record more COVID-19 deaths this year than it did in 2020. The risks of allowing current outbreaks to ravage places such as India aren’t limited to those countries alone. Emerging variants and further delays to more equitable vaccine distribution stand to affect everyone, including vaccinated populations. India’s problem is the world’s problem.
* This article previously misstated that India has provided more than 60 percent of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, the country provides 60 percent of all of the world's vaccines.
Listen to Yasmeen Serhan discuss this article on an episode of Social Distance, the podcast from The Atlantic about the pandemic:
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