India is set to roll out its vaccination programme for 18 to 45-year-olds, who constitute the bulk of its 1.3 billion-strong population, from 1 May. However, several state governments have been complaining to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about crippling vaccine shortages as the two domestic vaccine companies struggle to fulfil jab orders.
Elizabeth Warren and four other senators on Thursday called upon the American vaccine manufacturing companies to “expand access” to their jabs in India. She said it while expressing concern that inequitable vaccine distribution could lead to a global GDP loss of $1.2 trillion.
India’s COVID outbreak is a humanitarian crisis. I’m leading a letter to @moderna_tx, @pfizer, and @jnjnews to find out what steps they’re taking to expand global access to their vaccines to save lives and prevent variants from spreading around the world. https://t.co/d4qW6CkrBw pic.twitter.com/vhbUwGjHrr
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) April 28, 2021
“Though Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and other companies have developed safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the uncontrolled spread of coronavirus poses significant risks to global vaccination efforts: as the virus proliferates, it evolves—increasing the risk of a variant developing that renders vaccinations ineffective,” said a letter by Warren to Albert Bourla, the Chairman of Pfizer.
“A recent study estimates that unequal global vaccine distribution could result in a gross domestic product loss of $1.2 trillion annually for the global economy,” stated the senior Democratic Party senator.
Similar appeals have been made by four other senators — Edward J Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jeffrey A Merkley (D-Ore.), and Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.) — to the managements of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
In their letters to the American vaccine manufacturers, the five senators said that “voluntary technology transfer” between India and the US to scale up production in the COVID-hit South Asian nation could take place through several mechanisms.
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) has set up multiple mechanisms through which technology transfer could occur, including through its ‘COVID-19 Technology Access Pool’ (C-TAP)-which calls on the global community to voluntarily share knowledge, intellectual property and data necessary for COVID-19… and its mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub, which seeks to expand the capacity of low- and middle-income countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines and scale up manufacturing by facilitating the transfer of technology and intellectual property to those countries,” Warren pointed out in her letter.
The American senators have further demanded that these private companies also back India and South Africa’s demand for a “temporary waiver” of Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rules (TRIPS).
“Experts have also called for the US to support the temporary waiver of some Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules proposed by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), ..which would temporarily lift certain intellectual property barriers and allow countries to locally manufacture COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines,” states Warren’s letter to Pfizer.
Despite New Delhi’s call for a TRIPS waiver on the COVID vaccine being backed by many developing countries as well as at least 60 American lawmakers, the Joe Biden administration has so far remained non-committal regarding the demand.
Warren further asked Pfizer and other vaccine companies when are they planning to apply for an emergency use license in India, pursuant to New Delhi’s invitations to these companies to apply for authorisation in the South Asian nation.
“India has asked Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson to seek licenses to distribute their vaccines in the country as a means of expanding supply. Does Pfizer plan to apply for an emergency use license for its vaccines in India? If so, when?” she asked.
The letter by the US senators has been written against the backdrop of a devastating second wave in India, with the South Asian country recording over 300,000 new infections daily for a week now. India’s overall caseload of 18.3 million infections is the second worst globally, with only the US having recorded more COVID cases.