COVID Vaccine

Without doubt, Johnson has stolen a march over PM Modi just  when the Indian foreign policy establishment is daydreaming about the possible induction of the UK into the Quad to contain China. Clearly, Johnson’s priorities are different — transfuse lifeblood from the former colony, the jewel in the Crown, into his “Global Britain” project.  


Three cheers for the Indian Supreme Court’s suo moto intervention on the issue of distribution of essential supplies and services during the pandemic.

India, the “world pharmacy”, is entering shark-infested waters, as vaccine supply is getting intertwined with the country’s opaque decision-making, its powerful corporate culture and episodic diplomacy.

The report that the Serum Institute of India (SII) is making a whopping investment of GBP 240 million and shifting the main focus of its R&D and vaccine production to the United Kingdom underline that the Indian company is moving into greener pastures.

Boris Johnson made an offer to the Indian company that it couldn’t refuse, to borrow the famous words of Don Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, in the film The Godfather. The text of Downing Street announcement is here.

The Downing Street has bragged that the SII will set up a sales office also in the UK, which “is expected to generate new business worth over USD 1 billion, GBP 200 million of which will be invested into the UK.” It added,

“Serum’s investment will support clinical trials, research and development and possibly manufacturing of vaccines. This will help the UK and the world to defeat the coronavirus pandemic and other deadly diseases. Serum has already started phase one trials in the UK of a one-dose nasal vaccine for coronavirus, in partnership with Codagenix INC.”

Without doubt, Johnson has stolen a march over PM Modi just  when the Indian foreign policy establishment is daydreaming about the possible induction of the UK into the Quad to contain China. Clearly, Johnson’s priorities are different  — transfuse lifeblood from the former colony, the jewel in the Crown, into his “Global Britain” project.  

Johnson is a clever politician as his meteoric ascendance to the Downing Street testifies. He is sure to massage the Indian ego and have the news of the transfer of residence of the SII to Global Britain make a “soft landing” in the Indian public awareness. Johnson’s calling Modi later today.

He’s also invited Modi as a “guest” at the G7 summit he’s hosting in Cornwall from June 11-13. The MEA is thrilled at the prospect of PM being ushered into the chamber of the wealthiest countries on the planet. EAM S.Jaishankar already visited London as the “sherpa”.

At what point, if at all, our smart alecks in the South Block got wind of it — that Johnson and Poonawalla were planning a party — will remain forever in the domain of the “unknown unknown.” 

The Downing Street has also indulged in a flashy gesture of humanitarian help to ease India’s pain and suffering. A verbose press release from Downing Street is titled “UK sends further life-saving support to India”. Plainly put, the UK is gifting India 1200 ventilators, 495 oxygen concentrators and 3 oxygen generation units.

Of course, every drop matters to the empty bucket, but at this rate, what should Beijing expect as gratitude from the Indian nation? China is today by far the single biggest supplier of medicines, medical equipments to India to cope with the pandemic. 

(See note below for some details, not much reported by Indian media )

Johnson’s antics sidetrack attention from his high-jacking of the SII to Britain just when India needed that flag carrier in vaccine production to remain focused on the country’s pandemic. Johnson is having a repeat performance after his shameful backstabbing of the European Union. 

How the UK outsmarted the EU over AstraZeneca vaccine (Covishield) makes a truly epic story. As Politico newspaper put it succinctly, the UK simply secured a better contract with AstraZeneca than the EU did.

Johnson ensured that the clauses in the UK’s vaccine supply contracts required vaccine producers such as AstraZeneca (or SII for that matter) to supply it preferentially: that is, if there are production shortages, then the UK order must be fulfilled by diverting supplies from other customers. A failure to do so attracts fierce penalties.

Furthermore, London made sure that its deal with vaccine manufacturers had extra teeth. Thus, while the UK has had its orders fully met, the EU received only less than a quarter of what it had contracted for from AstraZeneca! Suffice to say, two-thirds of UK’s vaccine rollout has been met out of European production!

But Johnson was unmoved when the Europeans cried foul. He calmly insisted that he has a right to preferential supply, because that is what the contract says. He’s on strong grounds too since, after all, the UK government invested in the research, done at the University of Oxford, that powered the AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine and the firm has its headquarters in Chesterford Research Park, Cambridge, England.

Interestingly, the SII too received a legal notice from AstraZeneca in late March over delays in the supply of vaccine to the UK. The SII promptly referred it to Modi Govt. We do not know what transpired between Delhi and London but conceivably, MEA didn’t intervene, given the upcoming photo-op in Cornwall. 

The big question is:

Are Indian laws so toothless to protect national interests?

Again, how far SII played street smart betwixt Modi and Johnson also remains uncertain. The SII boss Adar Poonawalla himself claimed in a weekend interview with London Times newspaper that  “some of the most powerful men in India” hounded him out of India and the pressure on him was “incessant and very menacing.”   

Professor Gareth Davies, well-known barrister and academic on EU Law at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam wrote recently, “But signing a preferential contract with someone else is not force majeure: it is just selling the same stuff twice. AstraZeneca’s EU obligations are not diminished by its promises to the UK… It appears to have promised too much to too many people.”

Now, replace the words “AstraZeneca” and “EU” with SII and India respectively, and an ugly picture pops up. 

Prof. Davies adds, “The question is why AstraZeneca chose to breach the EU contract rather than the UK one. This will be largely because the UK deal had much harsher penalties — the EU deal has no penalties beyond non-payment and requires informal negotiation rather than litigation when problems arise.”

Prof. Davies weighs in: “Rather, it seems that the UK contracted better in the sole sense that its contract was more expensive to breach. That is partly a product of different legal systems and their styles: European contracting parties tend to see contracts as a tool to build up trust and long-term relationships. Anglo-American legal culture tends to see contracts as a way to avoid needing trust at all.”

However, aren’t Indian laws progenies of the Anglo-American legal culture? If so, the bottom line is, what the UK is getting out of the SII is what India is losing. And the responsibility of the Indian state ought to have been to dictate where the SII’s vaccine doses should go. Importantly, it remains unclear how far back the smart alecks in Delhi began sensing, if all, that Johnson and Poonawalla were planning a party.

Boris Johnson is consistent: Brits shall help themselves first. He is ditto like Joe Biden. Both say they are willing to help others but only after their needs are met. So far, that point hasn’t been reached. Johnson ridiculed the EU as utterly foolish and a loser. Indeed, the UK has fully vaccinated 21% of its population as of last weekend while the EU, a paltry 9%.

Johnson plays hard ball. He has no time for Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. “The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends,” Johnson said in a recent call with British MPs.



Courtesy : indianpunchline, the author’s blog, posted on May 4, 2021

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar served the Indian Foreign Service for more than 29 years. He introduces about himself thus:  “Roughly half of the 3 decades of my diplomatic career was devoted to assignments on the territories of the former Soviet Union and to Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Other overseas postings included South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, and Turkey. I write mainly on Indian foreign policy and the affairs of the Middle East, Eurasia, Central Asia, South Asia and the Asia-Pacific…”


China’s recent medical  help to India

China’s medical  help to India mentioned above, but almost suppressed by India media, combined with disinformation that China blocked supplies to India, was revealed by China’s Ambassador Sun Weidong :  

Since this April when India’s epidemic has deteriorated seriously, China has supplied more than 5,000 ventilators, 21,569 oxygen generators, over 21.48 million masks and around 3,800 tons of medicines to India, according to statistics of the General Administration of Customs of China.

Media reported that some logistics companies and medical product manufacturers in China volunteered to work overtime during China’s May Day holidays because of a surge in orders from India and “customers waiting for them to save their lives.”

“In the past two weeks, 61 cargo flights have been in operation from China to India, transporting various urgently needed medical supplies for India. The latest cargo flight carrying oxygen generators & other equipment took off from Tianjin, China to India at 11:15am today (May 2) ,” read one of Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong  posts on May 1, attaching in-scene videos messaging goods being transported.

Chinese medical suppliers are working overtime on orders from India, at least 25000 orders for oxygen concentrators, in recent days.

Cargo planes are under plan for medical supplies. Chinese customs will facilitate relevant process, Sun updated in his successive tweets on the issue.

He also posted an email address in the post, saying “please let us know any problem you met so that we could try our best to help accordingly.”


See also article in CC on Vaccine imperialism… And Vaccine compradors, now led by Modi of Swadeshi, April 24, 2021.



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  1. gchakko says:

    O.K Let him and his SII walk out. What have we to worry if SII left ?

    India has nothing to lose. Let them go.

    Pl. get Johnson & Johnson (JJ) vaccine in One of its chief scientists is an Indian from Kerala.

    Blood clots appear also by Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines independent of Vaccine quality. Only they don’t talk about their failures.
    The way of JJ – a one-time vaccine shot at room temp’s is a very veritable challenge to other MNC’s competitors, and has scratched the Ego of Zionist Capital supporting Pfizer/BioNTech. Because J&J is a black- owned MNC company. Shame on white American dominant Media.

    Let Sputnik V and Chinese variants all come in to help save humans. Let all the game players in. That’s what former PM Dr. ManMohan Singh suggested. Good Wisdom!.

    I fully subscribe to that suggestion.

    george chakko, former U.N. correspondent, now retiree in Vienna, Austria.
    Vienna, 07/05/2021 00:35 am CET

  2. sjatin kumar says:

    sir , This new laugh by Boris Johnson with SII clearly brings out the fact that a comprador has no liberty . He has to submit to the master.This is also a part of vaccine imperialism imposed on the world ,which resulted in 70 poor countries not getting vaccine . India which boasted of supplying n number of vaccine doses to the whole world few months ago, now is closing down its vaccine centres due to lack of supply of vaccines,even before vaccinating a decimal of its population .Iis it not the result of unplanned or careless indian strategy coupled with its subservience to imperialism .
    i recall few excerpts from previous CC articles.

    “AZ vax, Covishield, unlike Covaxin, is not indigenous as made out, as misrepresented by Swadeshi lobby led by Modi. It is a product of Swedish Astra plus UK Zeneca, MNC, a pharma-biotech major with Hq in UK. It is developed by AZ in tech coop with Oxford Univesity. Serum India Inst of Pune is a Make in India subsidiary for AZ vax, which is not indigenous strictly speaking. That is how AZ vax made in US facilities is not being allowed to be exported, as seen in NYT report above: Hegemonist US does not allow even the UK-Swedish MNC, a product by its Nato-ally, (mis-)using a Defence law! That is how transactions are stifled by so-called Rule-based international regimen about which QUAD brags, and yes-man India subserves, blaming China”.
    The dependence plight of SII, over a legal notice by the master, is explained by none other than its CEO. In an interview of April 14, 2021, he explained “‘I don’t think anybody would want to be in my position today where every head of State has to be explained that I am prioritising my country because there is a surge in cases.’The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, is juggling between meeting demands in its own country and its international commitments.
    I would like to conclude my comment with a quote of Boris Johnson himself from this very same article.“The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends,” .Imperialism is for profit making and what a great opportunity they have in the pandemic.!