New Delhi: Foreign diplomats and experts have raised eyebrows at the concerned Ministries for bypassing domestic needs in their enthusiasm for speedily initiating India’s “Vaccine Maitri”.

Officials working with various arms of the United Nations, European Member of Parliaments and foreign diplomats posted in New Delhi told The Sunday Guardian that the officials concerned should have taken lessons from other far more developed and prosperous countries like the United States and United Kingdom, who made it clear that they would start exporting vaccines once a considerable number of their own citizens were vaccinated.

Since 20 January, when India dispatched 1.5 lakh doses of Covishield vaccine to Bhutan as its first effort towards its “vaccine diplomacy”, it had sent 6.6 crore doses to at least 95 countries. The programme has now been suspended, till July at least, officials said. The number of Indians, who have got vaccinated on Thursday, 6 May, stood at 16.25 crore.

“The decision taken by India to export vaccine even as its own burgeoning population faced the risk of the second wave was a source of numerous discussions in our circle and a majority of us agreed that it was not a prudent decision and that it might backfire. Officials of any country will suggest whatever they believe is best for the country in their view, but those suggestions may not be domestically beneficial, and hence they need to be weighed by taking inputs from numerous departments and ministries rather than remain confined to a few”, a policy expert with a UN agency posted in London, United Kingdom, told The Sunday Guardian.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, while speaking at an event in London earlier this week, however, defended the Vaccine Maitri program by stating that the Indian government “gave vaccine to the neighbourhood for fear of pandemic” and as a “goodwill gesture”. Official records publicly available show that India gave vaccines also to geographically far off countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Brazil, Morocco, Congo, Nicaragua, and the UK.

Another diplomat with an Indo-Pacific country said that India’s decision to start sending vaccines to other countries despite being aware of its own limitations when it comes to health infrastructure was “astonishing”. “India’s health infrastructure is among the weakest in the world vis-à-vis the population it has to cater to. In such a scenario, the government should have focused on vaccinating as many people as it can in the shortest time possible. Sending vaccines to other countries could have waited till a substantial portion of India’s own people were vaccinated. It is not that the other countries were solely dependent on India’s help”, he stated.

A European MP, who was a part of the team of MPs that had visited Kashmir post the abrogation of Article 370, said that the vaccine diplomacy appears to be a decision that was taken in haste. “The authors of India’s vaccine diplomacy programme seem to have been misled regarding India’s ability to vaccinate its people. Else what explains this program that was put into action even as not even 10% of India’s population was vaccinated? We are pained at what the people of India are going through for the last 20 days. The priority of the government officials should have been its own citizens rather than people of other countries”, he said.