Coronavirus | U.S. to send raw material for Covishield

It’s pursuing options to generate oxygen on an ‘urgent basis’.

Updated - April 26, 2021 02:46 am IST

Published - April 25, 2021 11:00 pm IST

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. File

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. File

The U.S will immediately deploy supplies and other assistance to India, the White House said, following a Sunday call between the National Security Advisers of two countries, Ajit Doval and Jake Sullivan. The U.S.’s assistance will include making raw materials for COVID-19 vaccine ‘Covishield’ immediately accessible and pursuing options to generate oxygen “on an urgent basis.” However, there was no mention of the U.S. shipping ready-to-use vaccines from its stockpiles. Over the past week, the Biden administration had faced growing criticism for not doing and saying enough about the situation in India.

Also read: Biden administration denies ‘outright ban’ on vaccine raw materials

The U.S. was “working around the clock” to deploy “available resources and supplies,” a statement released by NSC spokesperson Emily Horne on Sunday said. “Mr. Sullivan affirmed America’s solidarity with India, the two countries with the greatest number of COVID-19 cases in the world,” Ms. Horne said.

The U.S. had identified sources of raw materials needed to manufacture Covishield and will make them “immediately” available for India, she said. Earlier in April, Adar Poonawalla, whose company Serum Institute of India (SII) manufactures the vaccine, had publicly appealed to U.S. President Joe Biden to lift export embargoes on raw materials. The administration denied that outright embargoes exist. However, as a consequence of the U.S.’s Defense Production Act (emergency powers that allow the government to control private sector production decisions) federal government purchase orders have to be prioritised over foreign orders, resulting in shortages for export.

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

Sunday’s statement from Ms. Horne detailed other forms of immediate assistance to India.

“To help treat COVID-19 patients and protect front-line health workers in India, the United States has identified supplies of therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators, and Personal Protective Equipment [PPE] that will immediately be made available for India. The United States also is pursuing options to provide oxygen generation and related supplies on an urgent basis,” Ms. Horne’s statement said.

Financing for BioE

The U.S. will also expand financing for BioE, a Hyderabad-based firm, to ramp up production to meet requirements of a vaccine supply programme that is being rolled out by the Quad (India, the U.S. , Australia and Japan). It will also deploy a team of experts to work with the U.S. Embassy in India to fastback support.

“The U.S. Development Finance Corporation [DFC] is funding a substantial expansion of manufacturing capability for BioE, the vaccine manufacturer in India, enabling BioE to ramp up to produce at least 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2022. Additionally, the United States is deploying an expert team of public health advisers from the Center for Disease Control [CDC] and USAID to work in close collaboration with the U.S. Embassy, India’s health ministries, and India’s epidemic intelligence service staff. USAID will also quickly work with the CDC to support and fast-track the mobilisation of emergency resources available to India through the Global Fund,” Ms. Horne said.

“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need,” the statement said.

Blinken’s reaction

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had reacted publicly to the COVID-19 wave ravaging India on Saturday night, saying the U.S. would “rapidly deploy additional support.”

“Our hearts go out to the Indian people in the midst of the horrific COVID-19 outbreak. We are working closely with our partners in the Indian government, and we will rapidly deploy additional support to the people of India and India’s health care heroes,” Mr. Blinken had tweeted.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Mr. Blinken spoke last week and discussed the COVID-19 situation but the State Department was unwilling to get into any details of the call beyond the readout.

The Biden administration has been under growing pressure this past week to send oxygen and spare vaccines to India: supplies that are of use now, as opposed to meeting global future demand (such as the Quad initiative and global vaccine distribution facility Covax do).

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful trade body, Asia policy specialists and lawmakers, called on the U.S. to donate vaccines — such as from its stockpile of 30-40 million doses of unused AstraZeneca shots.

“We are currently sitting on close to 40 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the U.S. stockpile, a stockpile which we’re not using … I respectfully but strongly call on the Biden Administration to release millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses to countries hardest hit by the spread of COVID-19, including India, Argentina, and potentially others,” Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat, said on Saturday.

In March, a deal was struck in which 4 million of these would be shared with Canada and Mexico. The administration has not announced plans since to send more such vaccines abroad.

“@POTUS please speak to @PMOIndia and see if we can lend 10M doses of AZ vaccine like tomorrow. We must help now!” tweeted Shekar Narasimhan, founder Super PAC (Political Action Committee) Asian American Pacific Islander Victory Fund.

Some Democrats — including Democratic primary candidates, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — had asked Mr. Biden to support a waiver of intellectual property rights to facilitate the production of COVID-19 therapeutics globally.

India has begun receiving supplies from other countries. Singapore sent oxygen cylinders on Saturday and the UAE , Russia and the EU are in the process of sending medical supplies. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had tweeted a message of “solidarity with the people of India” on Saturday.

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