Joe Biden

Pressure mounts on US to release AstraZeneca stockpiles to India, Brazil

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After much duress and criticism, the Biden government finally relented into lifting the embargo on export of raw materials for the manufacture of the Covishield vaccine, to India. US President Joe Biden has also extended full support to India in the time of crisis in a tweet on Sunday.

However, there is another matter the country needs to acknowledge if it has to help nations like India and Brazil and ensure vaccine equality – the cache of millions of AstraZeneca vaccines lying unused in the country.

Over the past few days, the Biden government has been requested by scientists and industry leaders to release the unused stock of the AstraZeneca vaccine – some 35-40 million doses –to countries like India and Brazil which are suffering from vaccine shortage.

Even though AstraZeneca was supposed to deliver 300 million doses of the vaccine to America, US chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci earlier this month said the country will not need the vaccine. The vaccine, which has been being linked to blood clots in beneficiaries in Europe, has not yet been cleared by the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use.

US already has three vaccines on duty –Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson and Moderna – and experts say by the time AstraZeneca gets clearance, most adults in the country would have been vaccinated.

The US has already sent four million shots to Mexico and Canada.

When AstraZeneca concluded its trial on March 22, experts predicting a deluge of vaccines by the time it is cleared for emergency use, had advised it to be diverted to India instead.

In a statement issued on Friday, the US Chamber of Commerce also urged the Biden administration to release the unused stockpile to India, Brazil and developing countries battling a surge in COVID cases.

“These vaccine doses will not be needed in the US, where it’s estimated that the vaccine manufacturers will be able to produce enough doses by early June to vaccinate every American. This move would affirm US leadership, including in initiatives such as COVAX, and as we work with partners around the globe because no one is safe from the pandemic until we are all safe from it,” the statement said.

In its response, Biden apart from lifting the ban on export of raw materials needed for vaccine manufacturing to India, has promised to send “additional support” to India.

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, Emily Horne, spokesperson of the National Security Council of White House said after the phone call between US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on Sunday.

Fauci has also hinted that it may help India with the vaccination process itself.

“The CDC is helping out by consulting with them — as they have in other countries in which there are situations — and giving technical assistance. But it is a dire situation that we’re trying to help in any way we can. We just have to see how things go. And obviously, they need to get their people vaccinated because that’s the only way we’re going to turn that around,” he said.

Stating that the US is committed to sharing its vaccine supply under COVAX, Jeff Zients, coordinator of the US COVID-19 taskforce said the government will start working on the process as soon as the vaccine supply increases.

Reports say, a bulk of the vaccines produced across the world have been procured by the richest countries, which had struck deals with manufacturers ahead of time. The rich countries are reportedly vaccinating people 25 times faster than the lowest on the economic index. The US which has only 4.3 per cent of the world’s population has 22.9 per cent of the world’s vaccines. China and India have 21.9 per cent and 13.8 per cent of the world’s vaccines respectively.

India’s own crisis may affect the vaccination process in African countries as Serum Institute of India which used to send out shots abroad will now have to optimize its raw materials to manufacture shots for India alone.

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