United States President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday morning promised to help India in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need,” Biden said.
The second wave has battered the health infrastructure in India as cases continue to rise steadily. India has recorded over 3 lakh coronavirus cases for four days in a row, and more than 2 lakh cases for more than 10 days.
Biden’s deputy Kamala Harris said America was working closely with the Indian government “to rapidly deploy additional support and supplies” during the alarming Covid-19 outbreak. “As we provide assistance, we pray for the people of India–including its courageous healthcare workers,” she wrote on Twitter.
This is the first time the US’ top leadership has reacted to the situation in India despite international coverage of the crisis. It came merely hours after the United Kingdom, the European Union and Germany promised to help India tackle the second wave. Pakistan, France and China have also offered help.
Amid the surge in cases in India, there is an acute shortage of oxygen, beds, vaccines and timely medical care across several states. Social media is filled with calls for ambulances, intensive care unit beds and medicines. Even hospitals are taking to Twitter to plead with the government to replenish their oxygen supplies and threatening to stop admissions of new patients. Several states, including national Capital Delhi, have sought help in meeting these needs.
Hours before Biden and Harris tweeted, the US National Security Advisor spoke to his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval and promised to make available the raw material required to manufacture the Covishield vaccine.
“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,” National Security Council Spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement.
“The United States also is pursuing options to provide oxygen generation and related supplies on an urgent basis,” the statement added. “The US 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.”
Sullivan had also told Doval that the US will send a team of expert public health advisors to help the Indian government and work with the US Embassy in India. The statement added:
“Mr Sullivan affirmed America’s solidarity with India, the two countries with the greatest number of COVID-19 cases in the world. Building on the seven-decade health partnership between the United States and India – including battles against smallpox, polio, and HIV – they resolved that India and the United States will continue to fight the global COVID-19 pandemic together.
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.”— Statement by NSC Spokesperson Emily Horne on Sullivan’s call with Doval
The United States had placed restrictions on the export of raw materials needed to manufacture coronavirus vaccines, thereby threatening to slow India’s vaccination drive. The US had defended its move saying the Joe Biden administration’s first obligation was to vaccinate Americans.
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 month, a report by The Economist suggested that vaccine production in India will come to a halt within weeks if the US did not lift the ban on 37 crucial items.
On April 16, Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive officer of the Serum Institute of India, which produces the Covishield vaccine, had requested Biden to lift the embargo on the export of raw materials. Earlier, a group of over 170 world leaders and Nobel Prize winners had urged 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.
The US’ decision will prove to be crucial for India as all citizens above the age of 18 will become eligible for the vaccine in the third phase of inoculation, starting from May 1, which will lead to a greater demand.