India on Monday reported more than 300,000 new COVID infections for the fifth straight day, taking the overall COVID caseload to more than 17 million. Faced with a devastating second COVID wave, the Indian authorities are now grappling with shortage of jabs, with the country’s biggest vaccine manufacturer already struggling to fulfill orders.
US Democratic lawmaker Andy Kim has urged the Biden administration to release the stockpiled AstraZeneca vaccines to India, reasoning that New Delhi could use the jabs to inoculate its population because it has yet to be approved in the US.
“The US has tens of millions of AstraZeneca vaccines in stock. These aren’t even approved for use in the US at this time, but they are in many other places across the world. We should break down the barriers preventing us from sending them to the countries that need it”, noted the congressman from New Jersey.
This is India’s moment of need and America must answer the call to help. Biden admin announced strong initial steps. I urge Biden to now authorize release of AstraZeneca vaccine to India and other allies. Alliances are tested in the darkest of days, and we must step up. THREAD pic.twitter.com/ou4uJGB2sn
— Andy Kim (@AndyKimNJ) April 26, 2021
In a series of tweets, Kim reckoned that even though the Biden administration has pledged support with resources and vaccine production to New Delhi, the US still could do “better”.
“America has secured enough vaccine for every single American. Pfizer/Moderna has signed up to deliver 600 million doses in total through July. Add 100 million J&J doses”, stated Kim, who is also a member of the Armed Services Committee.
The Democrat said that helping India with its COVID response was one of the first tests of the nation’s global leadership under the Joe Biden administration.
The appeal by Kim comes hours after Washington finally lifted its ban on the export of raw materials required for manufacturing of COVID vaccines in India. The export ban, legalised under the US Defence Production Act, prioritises supplies of these raw materials to domestic companies over foreign enterprises.
Adar Poonawala, the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine manufacturing facility, this week tweeted out an appeal to US President Biden urging him to lift the ban on the export of raw materials.
The ban has created hostility towards the US in the South Asian country, with many analysts and online users accusing Washington of turning its back on a Quad ally in an hour of need.
However, the US leadership has been reaching out to India since Sunday, in what is being viewed as a belated course correction by the Biden administration.
A readout by the US after a call between National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on Sunday stated that the Biden administration has “identified” sources of specific raw materials urgently required for the Indian manufacture of the Covishield vaccine that will be made available to India”.
The official readout also specified that Washington would supply New Delhi with therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE), and help it with means to enhance oxygen generation.
The US Development Finance Corporation (DFC) will also fund a “substantial expansion” of the manufacturing facility of BiologicalE, the Indian company tasked with producing one billion doses of vaccines under the “Quad Vaccine Cooperation” agreement by the end of 2022.
After the calls between the two NSAs, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris also tweeted out solidarity messages for India, with POTUS remembering how New Delhi had helped Washington with supplies of hydroxychloroquine in the initial stages of the pandemic last year.
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. https://t.co/SzWRj0eP3y
— President Biden (@POTUS) April 25, 2021
The U.S. is working closely with the Indian government to rapidly deploy additional support and supplies during an alarming COVID-19 outbreak. As we provide assistance, we pray for the people of India—including its courageous healthcare workers.
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) April 25, 2021
Despite the belated offers of help by the US, there is still no clarity if the Biden administration will export vaccines to India, as the South Asian country struggles to meet the 1 May deadline to begin an ambitious programme to vaccinate people above the age of 18.
Several Indian states, including Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, and Jharkhand on Sunday said that they were refused supplies by the Serum Institute of India until 15 May.
“The SII says it can’t supply us with the vaccine until 15 May. How will we roll out vaccines for people aged 18-45 years from 1 May?”, Rajasthan’s Health Minister Raghu Sharma said on Sunday.