As the government gears up to tackle the growing vaccine shortage, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is expected to travel to the U.S. next week to discuss procurement with American companies. Mr. Jaishankar is expected to meet U.S. officials and executives from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson in Washington and New York, sources told The Hindu .
The Minister’s discussions with the vaccine manufacturers are expected to focus on the availability of doses in India at the earliestIn the past few weeks, India’s administration of vaccines has dropped dramatically from 3.66 million a day in mid-April, to 1.48 million this week, ostensibly due to a shortfall in the availability. The shortage has led to criticism of the government’s earlier decision to allow vaccine exports under the “Vaccine Maitri” initiative to about 90 countries.
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The External Affairs Ministry did not confirm Mr. Jaishankar’s dates for travel to the U.S., which would be his first such visit since U.S. President Joseph Biden assumed office.He met his U.S. counterpart Anthony Blinken earlier this month on the sidelines of the G-7 ministerial meeting in London.
“We remain engaged with U.S. entities on the prospects of procuring vaccines from the U.S. and also perhaps manufacturing them in India subsequently. This would augment our vaccine availability,” Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said at a press briefing on Thursday.
“I would like to emphasise that all vaccines that may be procured from abroad would need to be as per our regulatory guidelines. I understand that the U.S. has also indicated that any vaccine that it sends abroad would be after obtaining FDA [Food and Drug Agency] clearance for product quality,” Mr. Bagchi said, referring to possible delays in the release of AstraZeneca doses given that the FDA is still carrying out what the U.S. State Department called a review of “all doses made at the plant where AstraZeneca doses were produced”.
The U.S. is expected to share about 80 million stockpiled doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with the rest of the world, and India hopes to procure at least about a million doses in the near future.
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According to the sources, India continues to worry about the U.S. strictures on the export of vaccine ingredients or raw materials needed for manufacturing in India under its “Defence Production Act”, that is still an issue despite the Biden administration’s decision last month to divert some of its orders towards India. In a tweet on May 5, U.S. Charge D’Affaires Daniel Smith had announced the arrival of vaccine components that would enable the manufacturing of 20 million doses of the Covishield vaccine at the Pune-based Serum Institute of India.
However, according to officials, the DPA-driven restrictions will still pose a problem for future production of vaccines in India.
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According to sources, the U.S. manufacturers are keen to discuss a more centralised procurement for American vaccines, rather than the current State by State mechanism, and would like to see India grant Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) for U.S. vaccines soon. American industry representatives are also likely to discuss liability issues with the Indian team.
The EAM and his team will also discuss plans for the production of Johnson and Johnson’s single-shot ‘Janssen’ vaccines at Hyderabad-based Biological E., which were originally announced as part of the U.S. plans for the Quad to provide one billion doses for South east Asian countries by 2022 end. With India’s demand for vaccines growing, and shortages increasing within the country, it remains to be seen whether these will now be made available domestically, with an accelerated timeline.
In response to a question from The Hindu at a briefing on Wednesday. U.S. State Department Coordinator for Global COVID Response and Health Security Gayle E. Smith said while doses could be available to India “in principle”, “the final allocation or plan for that will depend on what conditions we’re facing at the time they’re available.”