Biden’s government, under increasing pressure to counter a devastating coronavirus surge in India, said on Sunday it had partially lifted the export ban on raw materials for vaccines and will also supply India with therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits and ventilators, and personal protective equipment.
“Just as India sent aid to the United States because our hospitals were congested at the start of the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its need,” said Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, in a statement on Sunday.
The announcement, an abrupt postponement for the administration, came after Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, held a call earlier in the day with Ajit Doval, his counterpart in India, and when the Indian government reported more than 349,000 new infections, a world record for a single day. Ms. Horne said the United States had “identified sources of certain raw materials urgently needed for the Indian manufacture of Covishield vaccine,” the Indian-made version of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The situation in India is dire. The country is experiencing perhaps the worst crisis a nation has suffered since the pandemic began. Hospitals are overcrowded and desperate people die in line to see doctors – and there is growing evidence that the actual death toll is far higher than officially reported. Officials say they are urgently running out of supplies, including oxygen and protective gear, as a deadly new variant is believed to be behind a surge in cases.
Many Indians are frustrated that their country, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines, is so far behind in its own vaccination campaign. According to a New York Times database, less than 10 percent of Indians have even received a dose, and only 1.6 percent are fully vaccinated – although India makes two vaccines on its own soil.
Yet even as horrific images of tense hospitals and orange flames from mass incineration sites spread around the world last week, government officials had put back pressure on the United States to step up efforts to combat the boom in India. For Mr Biden, the Indian crisis is a clash of competing forces. The president took office pledging to restore America’s place as a leader in global health, and has repeatedly stated that the pandemic will not stop at the nation’s borders.
But he’s also grappling with the legacy of his predecessor’s “America First” approach and must weigh his instincts to help the world against the risk of political backlash in dispensing vaccines before any American has a chance to get a shot to get. By Sunday, 28.5 percent of Americans were fully vaccinated, and 42.2 percent had received at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sunday’s statement made no mention of the possibility that the US could send vaccines directly to India. During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, the United States would consider sending some doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine there.