The United States on Thursday defended its restrictions on the export of raw materials needed to manufacture coronavirus vaccines. The restriction is significant as it threatens to slow India’s vaccination drive.

Speaking to the press on Thursday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the Joe Biden administration’s first obligation was to vaccinate the Americans.

“Number one, we have a special responsibility to the American people, number two, this country [US] has been hit harder than any other country around the world...” Price said. “It is not only in the US interest to see Americans vaccinated, but it is in the interests of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated.”

The US had in February invoked the Defense 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.

Earlier this week, a report by The Economist suggested that vaccine production in India will come to a halt within weeks if the US does not lift the ban on 37 crucial items.

Last week, Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer of the Serum Institute of India which produces Covishield vaccine, had requested US President Joe Biden to lift the embargo on the export of raw materials. Earlier, a group of over 170 world leaders and Nobel Prize winners US President Joe Biden to support a waiver proposing to suspend rules of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments to boost global vaccination rates. India and South Africa had moved this proposal at the World Trade Organization in October.

However, some reports have also indicated that the US is not fully rigid on the matter. An unidentified official of the Biden administration has denied that the US has imposed “outright bans” on the export of vaccines or vaccine inputs, The Hindu reported on Thursday. Meanwhile, a central government official told Reuters earlier this week that the Biden administration was considering India’s request for lifting the ban and the matter would be acted upon “at the earliest”.

The US decision on whether to lift the ban could prove to be even more crucial for India in the coming few months as all citizens above the age of 18 will become eligible for the vaccine in the third phase of inoculation, starting from May 1, leading to a greater demand.