India: Soft Power And Export

India joins China, Russia, and the U.S. in offering the world its own Covid-19 vaccine.

Scarce Covid-19 vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin, are boosting India’s soft power as millions of doses travel from Indian facilities to low-income countries struggling with the pandemic.

The two vaccines are available to the Indian government at a price of about $3 to $4 per dose and rolled out by Serum Institute of India (SII) in Pune, and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech. The shipments are part of Vaccine Maitri, or Vaccine Friendship, an initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. By February 19, Bharat and SII had supplied over 22.9 million doses to 49 countries in the Caribbean, Asia and Africa, with more on the way. The Ministry of External Affairs says the vaccine supplies are mostly free of cost, on humanitarian grounds.

India launched its own drive, the largest of any country, targeting 300 million people domestically for vaccination in the next few months; the second phase commenced late last month. Indian pharma companies, meanwhile, have supplied 16.5 million doses of Covishield and Covaxin internationally under commercial contracts and some 6.5 million funded by grants. The number is expected to multiply, as India produces over 60% of the world’s vaccines overall.

SII entered into partnership last April with AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford to manufacture Covishield. In February, it increased its capacity, aiming to produce 100 million doses a month by next month. Founded in 1966, SII reported net sales of $717 million in 2019.

Bharat, which developed Covaxin in collaboration with the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research, began operations in 1996. Bharat reported profit of $15.3 million on sales of $104.5 million in 2018-19 and has capacity to produce 300 million doses of the vaccine annually.

Brokerage firm Sharekhan, in a recent note to clients, pointed to huge growth opportunities for Indian pharma companies in the export market—and Bharat and SII are not the only ones hoping to take advantage. Cadila Healthcare, India’s fifth-largest pharma company, valued at $6.2 billion, is betting big on its DNA-based vaccine, ZyCoV-D, which is now in third-phase trials.