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India Pauses Vaccine Exports, Hurting COVAX

The decision will delay the global vaccine rollout, but officials say it is necessary to deal with a domestic surge in cases.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A medical worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine.
A medical worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine in New Delhi on March 23. Prakash Singh/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: India pauses COVID-19 vaccine exports as cases surge domestically, China sanctions five British members of Parliament, and Brazil reports record-high coronavirus cases. 

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: India pauses COVID-19 vaccine exports as cases surge domestically, China sanctions five British members of Parliament, and Brazil reports record-high coronavirus cases. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


India Pauses Vaccine Exports

India temporarily halted vaccine exports on Thursday in a move that is likely to delay vaccine rollouts worldwide as it seeks to ramp up a national vaccination campaign.

The decision means that poorer countries, who have relied on the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative, are likely to see millions of doses delayed. COVAX expected 40 million doses in March and a further 50 million doses in April from factories in India, according to a statement from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance—which helps administer the program. Those deliveries are now in jeopardy.

It’s the second setback for COVAX this week as production issues at a South Korean supplier meant delivery volumes had to be scaled back.

India first? In India’s defense, the switch to a domestic focus reflects the worrying uptick in COVID-19 cases in February following a steady decline in peak cases that began in September 2020. India is now recording around 45,000 new cases per day based on a seven-day average, a jump from roughly 10,000 new daily cases at the beginning of February.

Up until now, India had struck an almost even balance on vaccine exports; 56 percent of the vaccines it has so far produced are for domestic use, according to analytics firm Airfinity, with the remaining 44 percent exported. The export balance is in line with other major vaccine producers like China and the European Union, who have a similar split. The United States and United Kingdom round out the top five vaccine producers, but neither have freed up vaccine doses for export.

Made in America. That could soon change, as U.S. production ramps up heading into the second quarter of 2021. U.S. vaccine manufacturers are expected to produce 132 million more doses this month, three times as many doses they produced in February. Even as supplies increase, the United States has only agreed to allocate some of its stockpile and only to its immediate neighbors, with 4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine soon to be shared between Canada and Mexico.


What We’re Following Today

Brazil’s COVID-19 crisis. Brazil reported more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, a new record, just one day after breaching a death toll of 300,000, the second highest in the world after the United States. The milestones come as pressure grows on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to part ways with Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo, who has been criticized for failing to secure vaccines to ameliorate the country’s slow rollout. Brazil’s new health minister, Marcelo Queiroga, pledged to ramp up the country’s vaccination program to 1 million doses per day. Brazil is currently inoculating its population at a rate of roughly 350,000 people per day.

China sanctions U.K. lawmakers. China sanctioned five British members of Parliament on Thursday in retaliation for coordinated sanctions imposed by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union on Xinjiang officials over human rights abuses. In announcing the sanctions, China’s foreign ministry denounced “lies and disinformation” about its treatment of Uyghurs. It’s the second time this week that Beijing has sanctioned Western lawmakers after it targeted members of European Parliament on Monday.

Ethiopia rejects cease-fire call. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed rejected U.S. calls for a cease-fire in the country’s Tigray region, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons reported following a diplomatic visit to Addis Ababa. Coons commended Abiy for finally acknowledging that Eritrean troops had entered Tigray and that troops committing human rights violations would be punished. “I’m encouraged by that. But the prime minister has made commitments before and fallen short on delivering,” Coons said.

Coons’s comments come as the United Nations drew attention to further abuses in Tigray. More than 500 cases of rape have recently been reported in the region, but the number is likely higher, Wafaa Said, the deputy U.N. aid coordinator in Ethiopia, told a briefing on Thursday.

Israel’s election. Israel’s political future remains up in the air as final vote counts show neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his opponents have won enough seats to form a governing coalition. There is still room for either side to prevail, as the undecided leader of the United Arab List could be persuaded to join a coalition, although divisions within both pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs could prevent that from happening.


Keep an Eye On

The future of the Iran Deal. Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was among the 43 signatories on a letter calling on U.S. President Joe Biden to expand the scope of restrictions on Iran beyond its nuclear program ahead of any future talks.

The calls for restraining Iran’s missile programs and support for regional militias in the letter were addressed by White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in January, with Sullivan saying they would be part of a “follow-on negotiation.” The letter comes as efforts to resume U.S.-Iran talks seem destined to falter as both sides have failed to agree on conditions. A window to start dialogue seems to be closing, however, as Iran prepares for its June presidential election.

Christopher Lawrence, writing in Foreign Policy, explains that making peace with Iran not only makes for a less volatile world but may also help U.S. workers by opening up a large export market.

Afghanistan withdrawal. Biden indicated that U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan past a May 1 deadline, but “can’t picture” U.S. forces remaining in the country this time next year. Biden made the remarks at his first formal press conference of his presidency, where questions ranged from the future of the Senate filibuster to whether Biden would run for reelection—but notably didn’t include ones on the coronavirus pandemic. 


Odds and Ends

A U.S. military spokesperson caused a minor diplomatic incident on Thursday by using a geographical term that angered Japanese officials. In referring to North Korea’s latest missile test, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command spokesperson Capt. Mike Kafka stated that the missiles landed in the “East Sea,” using South Korea’s preferred term for what Japan and the United States commonly refer to as the Sea of Japan. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Manabu Sakai called the statement “inappropriate” and has asked for a correction to the U.S. statement.

At a 2006 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun proposed the idea of renaming the waters the “Sea of Peace” or “Sea of Friendship” to then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe didn’t take up the offer. 


That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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