Washington: The Biden administration has conveyed to New Delhi that it understands India’s pharmaceutical requirements and promised to give the matter a due consideration, observing that the current difficulty in the export of critical raw materials needed to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines is mainly due to an Act that forces American companies to prioritise domestic consumption.
President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump had invoked the war-time Defence Production Act (DPA) that leaves US companies with no option but to give priority to the production of COVID-19 vaccines and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for domestic production to combat the deadly pandemic in America, the worst-hit nation.
Since the US has ramped up the production of COVID-19 vaccines – mostly by Pfizer and Moderna – so as to meet the goal of vaccinating its entire population by July 4, the suppliers of its raw material, which is in high demand globally and sought after by major Indian manufacturers, are being forced to provide it only for domestic manufacturers.
Among other things, the DPA, that was enacted in 1950, authorises the president to require businesses to accept and prioritise contracts for materials deemed necessary for national defence, regardless of a loss incurred on business.
The issue received global attention in recent days after Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India (SII), tagged President Biden in a tweet.
“Respected @POTUS, if we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the U.S., I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S. So that vaccine production can ramp up. Your administration has the details,” he tweeted.
The SII is the world’s largest producer of COVID-19 vaccine. Neither the US nor India has released details of the raw material that it is asking from the US.
In recent weeks, India’s Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu has been taking up the matter with the Biden administration officials. During his meetings with the US interlocutors, the top Indian diplomat has sought a smooth supply of certain inputs for production of COVID-19 vaccines in India.
In addition, officials from the two sides have held discussions to ease the supply of critical materials, considering their increased requirements in both the US and India.
“US side has clarified that there are no export restrictions on such items and that domestic regulations have only prioritised use of these materials for production of vaccines in the US,” sources familiar with the conversations told PTI on Monday.
Informed sources said that the Biden administration has conveyed to India that they understand India’s requirements and has promised to give the matter a due consideration. The US officials, in these meetings, have acknowledged the larger framework of the India-US health cooperation. It is believed that the US Embassy in Delhi is also in contact with the relevant Indian stakeholders.
The Indian Embassy here continues to be in touch with the US administration to find ways to ease the supply chain for vaccine production, consistent with the shared commitment to deepen India-US health partnership, particularly in the context of COVID-19.
The Quad Vaccine Initiative, under which India will manufacture US-developed vaccines — Novovax and Johnson & Johnson — is a concrete example of the US-India partnership. The Vaccine Experts’ Group, which has been constituted under the Quad, has already begun its work, sources noted.
During the telephonic conversation between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar Monday, the two top diplomats also discussed the coronavirus pandemic and ways to deal with it.
Earlier in the day, the White House refrained from answering questions on the export ban on COVID-19 raw materials.
Asked about the SII’s request for the supply of raw materials, both Dr Anthony Fauci, Director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Dr Andy Slacitt, White House COVID-19 response senior advisor said that they do not have an answer yet.
“I don’t, I’m sorry… We could get back to you on that. I’m sure. But I don’t have anything for you right now,” Dr Fauci said.
“Let me get back to you. Suffice to say we are taking very seriously the global threat from the pandemic. 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 specifics,” Dr Slavitt said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, when a similar question was asked during her daily news conference, referred to a recent speech at the WTO by US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.
“The significant inequalities we are seeing in access to vaccines between developed and developing countries are completely unacceptable. Extraordinary times require extraordinary leadership, communication and creativity,” she said.
“We of course are working with WTO members on a global response to COVID. That includes a number of components, whether it’s USD 4 billion commitment to COVAX or discussions about how we can aid and assist countries that need help the most.
“Our focus is on determining the most effective steps that will help get the pandemic under control. We don’t have anything further in terms of next steps or a timeline, but we are considering a range of options,” Psaki added.