As wealthy Western countries carefully guard their national stockpiles of COVID-19 vaccines, raising concerns about “vaccine nationalism,” China and Russia have moved aggressively in the opposite direction—toward vaccine diplomacy. Moscow and Beijing have used their homegrown formulas as powerful diplomatic tools, enabling them to curry favor with poorer nations that have largely been left out of the race to inoculate the world.
Vaccine diplomacy, however, is not the exclusive domain of major powers. Aspiring regional powers, including some smaller countries, are increasingly stepping into the ring too, garnering goodwill by selling or donating vaccine doses. The result is a global battle for soft-power influence that could escalate significantly in the coming months as even more countries join in.
Perhaps the fastest-rising player in this competition is India. Licensed to manufacture Covishield, the Indian label for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that was developed in the United Kingdom, New Delhi has quickly become a vaccine diplomacy leader. More than 50 million doses a month are produced at the Serum Institute of India—a company based in Pune, in the western state of Maharashtra, that is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines.