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Biden administration denies ‘outright ban’ on vaccine raw materials

A health worker administers COVID-19 vaccine at a Welfare Centre, in Chennai. File   | Photo Credit: M. Vedhan

The Biden administration has denied that there are any ‘outright bans’ on the export of vaccine raw materials in response to an appeal by vaccine manufacture Serum Institute of India’s (SII) owner, Adar Poonawalla, to U.S. President Joe Biden, asking him to lift an embargo on exports.

“The Biden-Harris Administration’s top priority is saving lives and ending the pandemic. We reject any statement referring to a U.S. export ban on vaccines. The United States has not imposed any “outright bans” on the export of vaccines or vaccine inputs. This assertion is simply not true,” an administration official, told The Hindu.

Mr Poonawalla, on April 16, had asked Mr Biden to “lift the embargo” on raw materials to assist the production of COVID-19 vaccines. SII , which produces ‘Covishield’, a version of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, uses bio-reactor bags from U.S. firms ABEC and GE Healthcare to grow cells for their vaccines, according to reports. It also uses filters, microcarrier beads and cell culture media- all of which are in short supply.

“Respected @POTUS, if we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the U.S., I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S. so that vaccine production can ramp up. Your administration has the details,” Mr Poonawalla had tweeted.

Also read: We understand India’s pharmaceutical requirements: Joe Biden

The U.S. is one major source of these materials, with reports suggesting that shortages are a consequence of the U.S.’s Defense Production Act –an emergency law that requires domestic manufacturers to prioritize federal(central) government purchase orders. Both Mr Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, had invoked this law.

“The United States has clearly committed to using all available tools, including the Defense Production Act, to expand domestic vaccine manufacturing and prioritize the supplies that can serve as bottlenecks to vaccine production in order to ensure that all Americans can be vaccinated quickly, effectively, and equitably,” the administration official told The Hindu.

The Biden administration has exceeded its stated vaccine availability and administration targets for the U.S. All adults in the country are now eligible to receive vaccines and at least half the adult population has received one dose of the vaccine.

India’s Ambassador to the U.S. Taranjit Singh Sandhu had met with his counterparts and other senior U.S. administration officials to discuss the specific concerns raised by vaccine manufacturers. U.S. officials had said they will “positively consider” the concerns raised by the Indian side, sources within the (Indian) government told The Hindu.

Foreign ministers of the two countries – S Jaishankar and his counterpart Antony Blinken spoke on the phone Monday. Both sides alluded to cooperation on “COVID -19” or “health” in descriptions of the call.

India and the U.S. are collaborating on the production of five vaccines and are also part of larger joint efforts with other countries.

The U.S., along with India, Japan and Australia (the Quad) has announced that it plans to deliver at least one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Southeast Asia and the Pacific by the end of 2022. This will include the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, manufactured in partnership with Hyderabad based Biological E.

The Biden administration also pledged $ 4 billion to COVAX , a global vaccine accessibility initiative, in February.

While funding and production commitments might address vaccine shortages over the medium to long term, many countries are currently facing shortages and in need of doses for their citizens now.

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 1:06:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/biden-administration-denies-outright-ban-on-vaccine-raw-materials/article34370490.ece

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