US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke to his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, to discuss possible aid from his country as India fights a devastating Covid wave
New Delhi:The United States will “immediately” make available sources of raw materials required to scale up production of the Covishield coronavirus vaccine – of which there is a critical shortage as India fights daily new cases of over three lakh and an active caseload of nearly 27 lakh.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke to his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, on Sunday to confirm this, and also that his country had “identified supplies of therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and PPE suits that will (also) be made immediately available to India”.
The US is also “pursuing options to provide oxygen and related supplies on an urgent basis” to help India overcome a shortage that has endangered the lives of thousands of both Covid-positive patients and those fighting other diseases.
“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,” the US said.
The White House statement, however, did not mention sending surplus vaccines, as a backlash grows over the fate of a stockpile of some 30 million doses – of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University drug that the Serum Institute makes in India as Covishield – that not been approved for use.
The United States’ offer of help on sourcing raw materials for vaccine production comes after appeals from Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla, whose Pune facility manufactures Covishield.
Last week Mr Poonawalla tweeted tagging President Joe Biden and asked him to lift an embargo on the export of raw materials. Imposed in February the “short-term embargo”, according to The Washington Post, was to ensure US pharma giant Pfizer had resources to produce its vaccine.
That was after Pfizer – from whom the US has ordered several hundred million shots – said it was having difficulties meeting delivery deadlines.
The Serum Institute is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer and a key player in the production of enough doses to protect a large portion of the global population against the COVID-19 virus.
It is also, as of now, the principal supplier of Covid vaccines for the Indian government – to whom Bharat Biotech is supplying Covaxin – and which is reportedly facing a critical vaccine shortage just as a deadly new wave of infections sweep the country.
Starting next Saturday India has opened vaccination to everyone over 18 – including 101 crore people in the 18-44 group that were so far excluded, making any potential shortage a nightmare scenario.
The US’ offer of help also comes hours after the United Kingdom said it was sending life-saving medical equipment to India – including ventilators and oxygen concentrators.
The first shipment is expected to reach Delhi early Tuesday, with more scheduled for the coming week. In total, nine containers carrying over 600 pieces – including 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators – will be sent.
Hours before that the European Union also promised to help India in its fight to contain a wave of infections that has brought an already-creaking health infrastructure to its knees.
India reported 3.49 lakh new cases in 24 hours on Sunday morning – adding to the 3.46 recorded Saturday, the 3.32 lakh on Friday and the 3.14 lakh on Thursday.
The frightening surge has left hospitals overflowing, and oxygen and medicines in very short supply.
The week-long oxygen crisis in Delhi – where at least 50 patients died Friday alone due to supply issues – has grabbed much of the headlines, but the situation is as dire in other parts of the country.
The surge in cases in India, experts have said, is likely the result of more aggressive strains in circulation, in addition to people’s laxity in following Covid-appropriate protocols.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government has been criticised for failing to anticipate and plan for this wave of infections, has held multiple meetings over the past week.