Can India’s Soft Power Gains Be Hurt By China’s Vaccine Diplomacy?

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The government is planning to immunize essential workers from Wednesday from the vaccines provided by China.

According to the ministry, essential workers include the people who are working in postal and telephone services, water supply and distribution, hotels and restaurant, public transportation services, electricity supply, storage and transportation of consumer goods, sales and distribution of medicines and the health workers who had missed out in the first phase of the vaccination drive that began on January 27.

“Those involved in essential services, students studying in China under the Chinese government scholarship but are currently stuck in Nepal due to pandemic, Nepali students preparing to leave for China for higher studies and people involved in cross-border trade between Nepal and China will be inoculated with the Chinese vaccine,” said Jageshwor Gautam, spokesperson for the health ministry in a press conference.

Vaccines will be administered from the designated hospitals in Kathmandu valley. Nepal, which started its vaccination drives after getting donations from India, gave emergency approval to China’s Shinopharm vaccine. A donation of 800,000 doses of a Covid-19 vaccine from China arrived in Nepal on Monday. The spokesperson of the Health Ministry of Nepal said that the drive would resume once the population bracket is targeted.

According to the report published in Lancet, the Shinopharm vaccine is safe and well-tolerated. On December 9, the United Arab Emirates announced the vaccine efficacy at 86 percent. According to the report in Washington Post, the United Arab Emirates, which was among the country to use Shinopharm vaccine, isn’t generating enough antibody after two doses.

Public health experts in Nepal are optimistic about this vaccine and say there is nothing to fear. Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, told a local media that there’s no need to be hesitant about this vaccine because so far, there have not been any complications observed in the people who have been inoculated with this vaccine. Experts recommend not mixing vaccines. They recommend new vaccinations can be initiated from the Shinopharm vaccines and for those who have administered Covisheild vaccines, it could be difficult.

Nepal started vaccination campaigns in January after getting one million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford manufactured by India’s Serum Institute. . Nepal had bought an additional two million doses from the institute. The officials of Nepal halted the campaign citing the shortage of doses as half of the purchase has been delayed. Only half of the follow-up order has been delivered so far.

 There are over 2,50,000 coronavirus cases and over 3,000 coronavirus-related deaths in Nepal so far. Although the cases and deaths have slowed in Nepal, it is not over yet. If everything had gone according to the plan and there was no delay of vaccine export from Nepal, by now all over 50 years of age would have been vaccinated. This would be a great milestone in containing the virus.

As neighboring countries await the shipment of India’s coronavirus vaccine, India has curtailed the exports of vaccines to prioritize local demand as there is a sharp surge in coronavirus cases. India recorded over 60,000 daily cases, which is the highest in five months. As India was running out of doses for its own people, it curtailed the vaccine exports. This temporary halt in shipment could affect India’s effort of soft power gains.

Now, as India has suspended the vaccine export in neighboring countries like Nepal, China is trying to fill the void left by India in Nepal by supplying additional vaccine doses. China is trying to show that they are more generous and increase their influence over Nepal. Both India and China have a target to vaccinate large swathes of their own population. China too has a target to vaccinate 40% of its population. So, there is pressure to grow more doses at home for both countries. If India’s deliveries are affected for a long, it will affect India’s image of vaccine-giving nations and it will also hurt Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s effort for soft power gains. India should ensure that there enough vaccines left for export while fighting its own battle if it doesn’t want to hurt its image and effort.

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