The White House on Monday declined to respond to questions on whether the United States will lift a ban on the export of vaccine raw materials necessary for ramping up India’s inoculation drive, PTI reported.
Last week, Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive officer of the Serum Institute of India, had requested US President Joe Biden to lift the embargo on the export of raw materials to boost production. The Serum Institute is the world’s largest maker of vaccines and a key supplier of the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative to give shots to some of the world’s poorest countries.
A reporter asked the White House coronavirus response team if it was planning to address the concerns raised by Poonawalla and unavailability of which raw materials could delay production.
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Dr Andy Slacitt, the White House coronavirus response senior advisor, said they had no answer to the question.
“I don’t...I’m sorry,” Fauci told the reporter. “We could get back to you on that, I’m sure. But I don’t have anything for you right now.”
Slavitt said the country takes the global threat due to the coronavirus pandemic very seriously. “We’ve been a leader in the funding of COVAX, have done several bilateral transfers of vaccines, and are looking very hard and taking very seriously all of these complex issues, we’ll get back to you on the specifics,” he added.
A reporter also asked a similar question to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and if the Biden administration was considering India’s request for lifting of the ban. In response, Psaki referred to a recent speech at World Trade Organization by US Representative Katherine Tai.
“The significant inequities we are seeing in access to vaccines between developed and developing countries are completely unacceptable,” the press secretary said. “Extraordinary times require extraordinary leadership, communication, and creativity. We, of course, are working with WTO members on a global response to COVID. That includes a number of components, whether it’s $4 billion commitment to COVAX, or discussions about how we can aid and assist countries that need help the most.”
Psaki added that the administration’s focus was to find steps to rein in the pandemic. “We don’t have anything further in terms of next steps or a timeline, but we are considering a range of options,” she said.
On Monday, Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar tweeted that he had spoken to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and discussed, among other things, “issues pertaining to health cooperation”.
On April 17, The Economist had reported that India’s vaccine production lines, which manufacture at least 16 crore doses a month, will halt within weeks if the US does not provide 37 crucial items.
In February, the US had invoked the Defence Production Act, which helped American pharmaceutical firms procure the material they needed to augment vaccine production. But under the Act, the firms need permission to export raw materials. The US government can stop the companies from exporting them.
The export restrictions threaten to hinder vaccine production across the world at a time when coronavirus cases are surging. India is battling a severe second wave of the virus and struggling with shortages of vaccine and other critical equipment. Amidst this, the Narendra Modi government on Monday announced that everyone above 18 years of age can be vaccinated against Covid-19 in the third phase of India’s inoculation programme.
The Serum Institute is currently producing Covishield, the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. The company produces 1 crore doses of the Covishield vaccine per month. It also plans to start manufacturing 60 to 70 million doses of the Novavax vaccine.