US Ban on Vaccine Raw Materials Hampers India’s Production as States Ask Modi Gov’t to Share Patent

The past fortnight has been particularly distressing for India as the country saw new daily infections exceed 400,000 and daily deaths spiral beyond the 4000 mark. With coronavirus sweeping through the country like an uncontrollable wild fire, India has recorded 362,727 new infections and 4,120 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Weeks after the US assured India it would provide raw materials needed to make vaccines for COVID-19, New Delhi is still waiting for the Biden administration to take the next step.

On 25 April, the US’ national Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval saying that the US has identified sources of a specific raw material which is urgently required for India’s production of the Covishield vaccine that will immediately be made available to India. 

On Tuesday, US Chargé D’Affaires in New Delhi, Daniel Smith, repeated that the Modi government has given the US a list of raw materials and other critical items needed to make the vaccine in India but stopped short of naming a delivery date.

“…[W]e are working closely with them to go through this list and decide what is available, what we can provide, and how quickly we can provide that,” Smith said.

“This is not an easy task, there are global challenges in the global supply chain right now when it comes to precursors and raw materials that are necessary for these vaccines.”

The new COVID-19 wave hit India in April, sending millions of patients frantically in search of hospital beds as the country ran short of oxygen, medical supplies and drugs to treat the critically ill.

A high-profile government official in New Delhi told Sputnik that there is much frustration over the US failing to promptly provide India with the supplies it needs.

“Though US officials are constantly in touch with India and are aware of the ground situation here, there is no word on when India’s desperate plea for help in terms of raw material will be heeded,” the official said. “It seems help for India is not on the US priority list,” the official said in frustration.

Last month, Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar also commented on the matter and said: “Today, as foreign minister, I am pushing other countries, particularly some big countries please to keep the raw materials flowing for vaccines to be made in India.”

India gave approval to vaccinate the largest section of its population, people in the 18 to 44-year age group, from 1 May. Until then, only those above 45 years of age were being prioritised. India is one of the most populous countries on Earth with 1.39 billion people. 

The nation has vaccinated nearly 178 million people during its COVID-19 mass vaccination drive with nearly 2 million doses given in the past 24 hours, according to Indian government figures. Out of the total, nearly 3.5 million are those in the 18 to 44-year age group.

“India has always supported the US in times of need. However, now India badly needs help, the US is letting us down. Not everything needs to be seen through a political eyeglass. Even on humanitarian grounds, the US should ease up and provide raw material to India,” said Pawan Garg, a Congress leader in the state of Punjab, while speaking to Sputnik. 

During the raging pandemic, India is witnessing a huge crunch of vaccines that many states have complained are in short supply. On Wednesday, Delhi shut down its 120 vaccination centres as the vaccine supply was exhausted. Other states such as Maharashtra, West Bengal, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have also flagged shortage concerns. 

The federal government has been denying however that there is a dearth of vaccines in the country. 

Several state chiefs, including Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal, have asked the federal government to share the vaccine formula of COVID-19 vaccine with other companies to accelerate production. 

However, question remain about India’s ability to ramp up production given the fact that the country still depends on other countries for sourcing raw materials needed to make the vaccine. According to the World Trade Organization, a typical vaccine-manufacturing plant uses around 9000 different materials which are sourced from some 300 suppliers across some 30 countries.

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