Can India vaccinate everyone it wants to?

A woman walks past a painting of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi a day before the inauguration of the COVID-19 vaccination drive on a street in Mumbai, India, January 15, 2021.

As the global vaccination race heats up, the most populous country in the world is trying to do three very hard things at once.

India, grappling with the second highest confirmed COVID caseload in the world, recently embarked on what it called "the world's largest" coronavirus vaccination campaign, seeking to inoculate a sizable swath of its 1.4 billion people.

That alone would be a herculean challenge, but India is also making hundreds of millions of jabs as part of the global COVAX initiative to inoculate low-income countries. And as if those two things weren't enough, Delhi also wants to win hearts and minds by doling out millions more shots directly to other countries in its neighborhood.

How will India pull off such a gargantuan task? It's still early days, but tough tradeoffs are already emerging fast.

Domestic mistrust. When India launched its COVID vaccination campaign in January, many were hopeful. The country had both the capacity to mass-produce (India makes about 60 percent of all vaccines globally) and the logistical infrastructure already in place to inoculate hundreds of millions of children against measles or tuberculosis annually.

But six weeks in, barely 1 percent of Indians have gotten their shots. Technical glitches are one reason. But another issue is widespread skepticism. Only 40 percent of Indians say they want to be vaccinated, according to the pollster Local Circles. A fishy approvals process for India's own locally-developed vaccine contributed to that. Earlier this week Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself took the jab in a photo-op bid to boost public confidence.

There's also a basic supply constraint which is forcing India's government to balance competing priorities.

Made in India vs India First. Global prospects for ending the pandemic depend heavily on India, which has committed to producing hundreds of millions of vaccines for Oxford/AstraZeneca, under the local name Covishield. But balancing that global demand against Indians' needs is proving tough.

Delhi has already warned once that it would delay COVAX commitments until it had inoculated a critical mass of its own population. And although it walked that back a bit, two weeks ago the Serum Institute of India — the main COVAX supplier — hinted it was under pressure to prioritize India's "huge needs."

One of those needs is vaccine "friendship." Prime Minister Modi calls his strategy "Vaccine Maitri," a Sanskrit word with Buddhist overtones that means friendship, goodwill, or kindness. Modi wants the world to see India as a benevolent power, using its vaccine manufacturing capacity to help countries in need.

Indeed, Delhi is set to ship shots to several nations in South Asia and beyond, often for free. But Delhi's largesse has a geopolitical coloring too: India is sending jabs to Bangladesh, for example, as part of a strategy to mend ties with Dhaka after the fallout of India's controversial 2019 citizenship laws, which stoked tensions with the majority-Muslim country. Meanwhile, unsurprisingly, no Indian-made jabs are headed for the 200 million people of long-time adversary Pakistan.

China is part of the story too. India's main rival for Asian supremacy is waging its own complicated campaign of vaccine diplomacy, sending millions of vaccines to countries across the developing world. Delhi wants to counter that, but is focusing closer to home: India is supplying millions of doses of Covishield to neighboring Nepal, where China's growing influence has been eroding India's sway in recent years, and to Sri Lanka, which is increasingly in play in the Asian rivalry between Beijing and Delhi.

Bottom line: India has chosen to do three very difficult and somewhat conflicting things. Succeeding at any one of them alone would be an impressive step in the longer fight to end the pandemic. But can Delhi manage more than that?

Colorful graphic with a woman wearing a red top in the foreground and blue background with two individuals looking on

As the private sector innovates aid and financing, seeking holistic solutions to neighborhood challenges is the cornerstone of the approach.

Businesses, which rely on healthy communities for their own prosperity, must play a big part in driving solutions.

See why.

Australian Open - First Round - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 21, 2020 China's Peng Shuai in action during the match against Japan's Nao Hibino

The Women’s Tennis Association this week decided to suspend all tournaments in China, over doubts that the country’s star player Peng Shuai is safe and sound. Peng recently disappeared for three weeks after accusing a former Vice Premier of sexual assault. Although she has since resurfaced, telling the International Olympic Committee that she’s fine and just wants a little privacy, there are still concerns that Peng has been subjected to intimidation by the Chinese state.

More Show less

Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

What are the DSA and the DMA?

Well, the twin legislative initiatives of the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act are the European Union's answer to the challenges of content moderation online and that of the significant role of major market players, also known as gatekeepers in the digital markets. And the intention is to foster both more competition and responsible behavior by tech companies. So the new rules would apply broadly to search engines, social media platforms, but also retail platforms and app stores.

More Show less

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What is happening to Roe v. Wade?

Well, this week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson, which challenges a Mississippi law that would outlaw abortions after 15 weeks in the state. That law itself is a direct challenge to the legal precedent set by Roe v. Wade nearly 50 years ago, which is one of the most politically important Supreme Court decisions in American history. It has driven deep polarization between the right and the left in the US and become a critical litmus test. There are very few, if any, pro-life Democrats at the national level and virtually no pro-choice Republicans at any level of government. Overturning Roe has been an animating force on the political right in the US for a generation. And in turn, Democrats have responded by making protecting Roe one of their key political missions.

More Show less
What We're Watching: Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell, Iran nuclear talks resume

Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell. Although she doesn't officially step down as German Chancellor until next week, Angela Merkel's sendoff took place on Thursday night in Berlin, with the traditional Grosser Zapfenstreich — a musical aufweidersehen, replete with torches and a military band. By custom, the honoree gets to choose three songs for the band to play. Among Merkel's otherwise staid choices was a total curveball: You Forgot the Colour Film, a 1974 rock hit by fellow East German Nina Hagen, a renowned punk rocker. The song, a parody bit about a man who takes the singer on vacation but has only black-and-white film in his camera, was understood as a dig at the drabness of life in the East. We're listening to the tune, and... digging it, kind of — but we still prefer Merkel's own Kraftwerk-inspired farewell song from Puppet Regime. Eins, zwei, drei, it's time to say goodbye...

More Show less
World leaders at the G20 Summit in Rome, October 2021

This week, the World Health Organization’s governing body agreed to begin multinational negotiations on an agreement that would boost global preparedness to deal with future pandemics. The WHO hopes that its 194 member countries will sign a treaty that helps ensure that the global response to the next pandemic is better coordinated and fairer.

The specifics remain to be negotiated over the coming months – and maybe longer – but the stated goal of those who back this plan is a treaty that will commit member countries to share information, virus samples, and new technologies, and to ensure that poorer countries have much better access than they do now to vaccines and related technologies.

Crucially, backers of the treaty insist it must be “legally binding.”

More Show less
Abortion rights and anti-abortion demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court while the court holds a hearing on a Mississippi abortion ban, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, December 1, 2021.

On Wednesday the Supreme Court began hearing arguments on an issue that has had Americans fighting — and in some cases killing — each other for 50 years: abortion.

The court must decide whether a recent Mississippi state law that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy is legal and, more broadly, whether it runs counter to the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973.

More Show less
Coronavirus in Deutschland - Covid-19-Dashboard des Robert Koch-Institut 01.12.2021:

67,186: Germany announced Thursday that people who remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 will be subject to new restrictions, including being unable to enter stores and gather in large groups. This comes as Germany recorded 67,186 new cases Thursday, hundreds more than the previous day, according to the Robert Koch Institute. Hospitals are filling up and Chancellor-designate Olaf Scholz, who comes into office next week, says he would support broad vaccine mandates.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

A GZERO pandemic



Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal