As Delta looms large, Quad may advance vaccine rollout to 2021-end

Under original plan, US, Japan and Australia were to help India bring out 1 billion COVID vaccines by end of 2022

COVID Vaccine
Experts from the four Quad nations are looking at “front-loading” the vaccine initiative to make sure it is launched in the final quarter of 2021.

In March this year, when the Quad (India, the US, Japan and Australia) bloc held the first summit of its leaders, a vaccine initiative was unveiled, under which India would make US vaccines. Japan would provide funding and Australia, logistical support. The vaccines would cater to countries in the Indo-Pacific.

“Quad partners will launch a landmark partnership to further accelerate the end of the COVID pandemic,” said a White House statement then. “Together, Quad leaders are taking shared action necessary to expand safe and effective COVID vaccine manufacturing in 2021, and will work together to strengthen and assist countries in the Indo-Pacific with vaccination, in close coordination with the existing relevant multilateral mechanisms including WHO and COVAX.”

The partners had set a 2022-end deadline to supply at least 1 billion vaccines. However, the second wave of COVID severely impacted India’s own COVID vaccine supplies and also disrupted global supply chains banking on Indian products. Now, amid increasing number of cases caused by the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the Quad vaccine deadline may be advanced to 2021-end, said a report in The Sunday Express.

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Raising the pace of vaccination

Experts from the four Quad nations are looking at “front-loading” the vaccine initiative to make sure it is launched in the final quarter of 2021, the report said. The havoc wreaked by the second wave, and the emergence of the virulent Delta and Delta Plus variants of the coronavirus are seen to have triggered this policy decision. It has become imperative to step up the vaccination drive, the report added.

Also read: COVID rocks India’s federal structure amid calls for reform

The topic is likely to be discussed at the G-20 foreign ministers’ talks in Italy, slated for June 29, at the Palazzo Lanfranchi hotel in Matera, Italy. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will be meeting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, among others, at the meeting.

The Quad vaccine initiative is expected to account for a large proportion of the 1 billion vaccines required for India and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Sunday Express report quoted a Quad diplomat recalling a similar measure taken in December 2004, when India was hit hard by the tsunami and the other three nations came together to offer aid.

Four-pronged effort

Under the Quad vaccine initiative, the US Development Finance Corporation (DFC) will work with — including financing — Hyderabad-based Biological E Ltd to raise the capacity of the latter to produce vaccines. Bio E will roll some of the planned 1 billion doses of vaccines, including that of US-based Johnson & Johnson. As per the timeline, J&J and Bio E’s vaccine candidate — Jansen — will be launched in September 2021.

“Japan, through JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency, is in discussions to provide concessional yen loans for the Government of India to expand manufacturing for COVID vaccines for export, with a priority on producing vaccines that have received authorisation from WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL) or Stringent Regulatory Authorities,” said the White House statement.

“Australia will contribute $77 million for the provision of vaccines and ‘last-mile’ delivery support with a focus on Southeast Asia, in addition to its existing commitment of $407 million for regional vaccine access and health security,” it added.

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