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US will share 80mn spare Covid vaccines, says President Biden; India may benefit

New Delhi: President Joe Biden on Monday announced that the United States will begin shipping 20 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccines to unspecified needy countries by June end, in addition to the 60 million shots of AstraZeneca’s that have already been pledged for distribution subject to authorisation by the drug regulator.

Though there are no indications of the proportion in which these 80 million doses will be distributed and to which countries, it is reliably understood that India will be among the recipients. But, once again, there is no word on what it will get — AstraZeneca, which is already made and distributed in India as Covishield, or the ones by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine is not authorised for use in the United States yet — it has not even sought it — but the company is pre-contracted to supply 60 million doses whenever it is given the green light. Four million of them have already been committed to Canada and Mexico, the two closest neighbours.

“Today, I’m announcing that we’ll also share US-authorised vaccines doses of Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, as they become available, with the rest of the world as well,” Biden said.

They will begin shipping “by the end of June”, he added, “when we’ll have taken delivery of enough of such vaccines to protect everyone in the United States”.

Observers described the Monday announcement as the most explicit commitment by the Biden administration to share vaccines that it can spare. Around 48% of Americans have received at least one of the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and one of single-dose Johnson & Johnson’s. The country appears confident enough that it has turned the corner to allow those fully vaccinates to go without masks entirely, both indoors and outdoors.

As per Biden’s announcement, the United States will be sending over the next six weeks 80 million doses overseas, which is 13 % of vaccines produced by the United States by the end of June. “This will be more vaccines than any country has actually shared to date — five times more than any other country — more than Russia and China, which have donated 15 million doses,” the American president said, keeping the two main US adversaries in the crosshairs.

President Biden has been under increasing pressure from his own party lawmakers to send vaccines to countries that need them, including India, increasingly in the wake of the aggressive second wave that has caused unanticipated devastation.

The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a highly regarded and independent global research body based in the United States, has projected 1.24 million cumulative deaths in India because of Covid-19, which has emerged as the leading killer in last some weeks.

The Biden administration has sent $100 million worth of assistance to India in the wake of the recent surge in Covid-19 cases, including oxygen concentrators and related supplies, therapeutics such as Remdesivir, personal protective equipment, and rapid diagnostic kits.

The Biden administration has also released raw materials Indian vaccine maker Serum Institute of India needs to ramp up productions of AstraZeneca/Covishield vaccines and, most significantly from policy perspective, backed India and South Africa’s joint proposal to the WTO to temporarily waive patents to Covid-19 vaccines to ensure their widest and most equitable distribution.

 

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