As the world struggles with the short supply of Covid vaccines caused by an ever-increasing demand leading to death and disaster all across the globe, it deemed tactless when the USA administration office imposed the interdiction on the raw materials’ export to the largest democracy on the globe with 1.30 billion people.
Serum Institute of India’s Adar Poonawalla, in a Tweet to the presidential office of USA calls out to such an inconsiderate action which said:
“@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 US so that vaccine production can ramp up. Your administration has the details,”
The Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest producer of COVID-19 vaccine. This tweet alone caused a chain reaction across the country as though this Tweet deemed fit to many, it also raised many eyebrows and questions on to why the raw materials could not be sourced locally using Indian entrepreneurs and is the Government sourcing any other sites for the same parallelly or were we solely dependent on the imports from the USA.
Another big Indian pharmaceutical giant, Covaxin maker Bharat Biotech, on the other hand have not commented anything on the onset of this ban imposed by the US office.
Indian Council of Medical Research’s head of Epidemiology, Mr. Samiran Panda commented that Indian Council of Medical Research was in talks with Bharat Biotech on making the adjuvant locally. Covaxin was co-developed by the joint efforts of the capable team comprising of both, ICMR and Bharat Biotech’s scientists.
Back in March, Mr. Poonawalla had a discussion with a World Bank panel about the US ban on raw material exports. It was stated that the ban was applied by invoking the Defence Production Act of 1950, and that it caused global shortages. Serum Institute of India has an alliance with US company Novavax as well (besides the AstraZeneca) to make and market the vaccine in India and other countries.
Novavax CEO also was found recently raising this concern in the US Industry insiders where he said that vaccine-makers have some inventories, but the situation could impact Novavax supplies if the raw material supply issue is not resolved soon.
As of now, the industry-watchers have commented that the US actions are purely based on and to ensure local supplies for the US based vaccine makers like the Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson and Moderna.
The US action is to ensure local supplies for US vaccine-makers like Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, and Moderna, said industry-watchers.
After this step, even the WHO’s scientists were found raising concerns. WHO’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan pointed out towards the shortage of glass, stoppers (vial caps), plastics and vials itself. She stated, “There is a lack of supply which is exacerbated by export controls.”. Same was noted by the General-Director of Pharmexcil, Mr. R Uday Bhaskar where he said that this ban shall directly impact the vaccines that are being developed in India since the manufacturers were directly sourcing their raw materials’ needs from the US.
“And it is not just the Covid-19 vaccines that are taking a major hit. As a matter of fact other antidotes which are not related to Covid-19, could be impacted as non-critical materials such as beta propiolactone and thimerosal or single-use bioreactor bags and such others are also imported”, Mr. Bhaskar said, adding that it would however be “temporary”.
The Biden administration has conveyed itself to New Delhi that it understands India’s pharmaceutical requirements and has promised to give the matter the 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 prioritize domestic consumption.
President Joe Biden and his predecessor ex-President Mr. 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.
“That campaign is well underway, and we’re doing that for a couple of reasons. Number one, we have a special responsibility to the American people. Number two, the American people, this country has been hit harder than any other country around the world; more than 550,000 deaths, tens of millions of infections in this country alone,” he said on Thursday.
It is not only in the US interest to see Americans vaccinated; but it is in the interest of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated, he said. 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 the entire population of US by their Indigence day, that is July the Forth of 2021, 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, authorizes the president to require businesses to accept and prioritise contracts for materials deemed necessary for national defence, regardless of a loss incurred on business. Aftermath of such a ban, neither the US nor India has released details of the raw material that it is asking from the US.
In recent days, 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 commented on the matter last 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 on 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,” Ms. Psaki added.
In the wake of this information, it will safe to say that India is better of if it starts immediately on siting the local sources of the much needed raw materials and forming a symbiosis with the local entrepreneurs.