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Tables turn as international community pledges COVID-19 aid

Healthcare workers wearing personal protective equipment while caring for patients with COVID-19 in the Indian state of Kerala. Image credit: Javed Anees, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

India continues to break daily new case records with a further 349,691 additional cases on Sunday. This daily figure — now the highest in the world — is in stark contrast to figures in mid-February which were consistently hovering just above the 10,000 mark. The difference in the figures is likewise echoed in current vaccine policy.

The Serum Institute of India (SII) is the world’s largest vaccine producer, as such, much was expected of the SII in contributing to the global vaccination drive. As Health Issues India published earlier in the year

“As the SII is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, India has long been-anticipated to assume a pivotal role in the global inoculation drive. Yet India’s task of vaccinating its own population of over 1.3 billion has been recognised virtually from the outset as challenging — and SII CEO Adar Poonawalla has said manufacturing capacity in the country is “very stressed” and that “we are still short of being able to supply to every Indian.””

Given India’s low circulation figures compared to the initial peak in September of last year, the country began to export vast numbers of vaccines. This is despite the fact that worries were made abundantly clear on numerous fronts that India would struggle to roll out vaccinations domestically. Despite India’s considerable numbers of vaccines delivered throughout the country — now well in excess of 100 million — a population exceeding a billion individuals will always be a logistical nightmare for vaccine rollout.

Numerous factors have likely contributed to the second wave India is currently facing: low vaccination rates, vaccine hesitancy, so-called “pandemic fatigue”, and continued mass gatherings. Facing the speed of the resurgence one of the initial orders from the Centre in late-March was to restrict the export of vaccine doses, hoping to improve domestic distribution. The initial speculation that India would likely be a driving force behind the global vaccination campaign has now come full circle, with the international community now donating vaccine components and medical aid.

The UK Government has prepared an emergency COVID-19 assistance package, funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, that includes ventilators and oxygen concentrators from surplus stocks. Given news of recent shortages of oxygen at hospitals across India these vital supplies could be vital in providing intensive care to the burgeoning numbers in ICU wards across the country. Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to “stand side by side” with India as the second wave has caused both cases and deaths to surge across the nation.

The US has also pledged to send raw materials for COVID-19 vaccines, as well as medical equipment and protective gear. “Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need,” said US President Joe Biden on Twitter.

Private companies have also pledged to provide COVID-19 aid to India. Google has announced they will be providing funding of Rs 135 crore for medical supplies, informed CEO Sundar Pichai on Monday. CEO of Google and Alphabet, Sundar Pichai tweeted, “devastated to see the worsening Covid crisis in India. Google & Googlers are providing ₹135 Crore in funding to @GiveIndia, @UNICEF for medical supplies, orgs supporting high-risk communities, and grants to help spread critical information.”

At more than three times the rate of infection of the initial surge in cases last year any additional supplies are a welcome relief to the situation in India. The monitoring of the death rate typically lags behind the number of cases by around two weeks, given the rate at which the cases have surged it is likely that we will see the death rate rise considerably over the coming weeks.

The second wave in India is proving to be disastrous. That the international community is rallying behind India is a boon that may aid in curbing the surge of cases. However, cases are still showing no signs of abating, and the worst may be yet to come.

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