Amidst the overwhelming shortage of Coronavirus vaccines, the European Commission (EC) met on Wednesday (April 21) in Brussels to discuss the export controls on the vaccines. In the meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel lamented that they “allowed” India to become a major pharmaceutical producer in the world, while the industry has declined in Europe.
She was worried that now EU countries will not receive enough medicines from India as there is a huge surge in Covid-19 cases in the country.
Angela Merkel said, “The truth is, we haven’t treated our pharmaceutical industry so well for many years…I am glad that we still have pharmaceutical production in Belgium, Holland, Germany.” Highlighting the issue of vaccine shortage, she said, “We now have a situation with India where, in connection with the emergency situation of the pandemic, we are worried whether the pharmaceutical products will still come to us.”
Furthermore, Merkel cautioned, “Of course, we have only allowed India to become such a large pharmaceutical producer in the first place, also from the European side, in the expectation that this should then also be complied with. If that is not the case now, we will have to rethink.” Her comments targeting India came despite the fact that the country rose to the occasion to help the global community.
India sought waiver of intellectual property rights over Coronavirus medical supplies
Earlier, countries such as India and South Africa had asked global trade negotiators and the World Trade Organisation to suspend intellectual property rights over Coronavirus medical supplies. But the European Union, along with the USA and other rich counties, which are now worried about the lack of drugs, had blocked the move. Had the proposal been accepted, production of the Covid-19 vaccine and treatments could have been increased by several times, as companies all over the world would have been able to manufacture the patented drugs.
The proposal was first raised by India and South Africa in October. After that, China and dozens of other WTO members, mostly from developing countries, had supported the proposal. But it was blocked by the developed nations, which are home to major global pharmaceutical companies. They argued that it will stifle innovation at pharmaceutical companies by robbing them of the incentive to make huge investments in research and development.
India delivered HCQs to 55 nations to fight the Coronavirus pandemic
Last year, India supplied hydroxychloroquine (HCQs) to 55 coronavirus-hit countries, both on humanitarian grounds and commercial basis. These include nations such as Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh Nepal, the Maldives, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, US, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Myanmar.
HCQs were also exported to countries such as Zambia, Dominican Republic, Madagascar, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Congo, Egypt, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Ecuador, Jamaica, Syria, Ukraine, Chad, Zimbabwe, France, Jordan, Kenya, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman and Peru. US President Donald Trump on April 8 last year thanked India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for allowing the export of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to the United States, a day after India formally announced that it was easing the blanket ban on exports.
Responding to a question on the reaction of UN chief Antonio Guterres to India’s efforts to send Hydroxychloroquine and other supplies to other countries amidst the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, Guterres’ spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said he ‘salutes’ India and other countries helping others in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
‘Vaccine Maitri’ – India led the global fight against the Coronavirus pandemic
India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, has yet again come to the world’s aid by successfully supplying vaccines to its neighboring and other developing countries at an extremely affordable cost, besides giving away millions of doses to friendly nations for free. India has airlifted more than millions of COVID-19 doses to almost 100 nations under its initiative termed “Vaccine Maitri”.
Till now, India has sent 10.6 million doses for free to friendly nations. Along with that, Serum Institute of India has sent almost 20 million doses under commitment to COVAX, while another 35.8 million doses have been exported by the vaccine manufacturers under commercial contract with foreign nations.
European Commission to sue Astra Zeneca
Meanwhile, the European Commission is mulling to sue vaccine developer AstraZeneca over its failure to deliver ‘pledged Coronavirus vaccines’ on time. Member nations such as Germany and France have raised skepticism over such a move. They have argued that a lawsuit against AstraZeneca may not guarantee that the European Union will get its ‘promised’ tranche of Coronavirus vaccines. Moreover, the member nations have expressed fear that such a drastic step might reduce the trust of people in the vaccine.
In the first quarter, AstraZeneca delivered 30 million doses to the European Union, as compared to the pledged 100 million doses. As per the contract, the company is supposed to deliver 300 million doses by the second quarter. The company however said that it could deliver only 70 million doses. This under-delivery of Coronavirus vaccines by AstraZeneca has drawn the ire of the European Commission, given that it had massively affected the vaccination programme in member nations. Last week, the EU secured a contract for 1.8 billion BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines till 2023.