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Friday, June 18, 2021

DC to Delhi: For and with India in Covid crisis… call on vaccines soon

Although Washington has not decided how its 80 million doses will be distributed, India is likely to be one of the beneficiaries — be it AstraZeneca, which is already made and distributed in India as Covishield; or the ones by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, or a mix.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: May 30, 2021 7:09:16 am
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday. (Photo: Reuters)

The United States is closely monitoring India’s Covid challenge and will “respond positively to any Indian requirement,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is said to have assured External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during a “productive discussion” Friday.

This was their second interaction after their May 3 meeting on the sidelines of the G-7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in London.

Sources said that the two discussed how ramped-up vaccine production in India can address both domestic needs and the imperatives of global public health. To that effect, India and the US will collaborate bilaterally, in the Quad format, and through multilateral initiatives, sources said.

Blinken said they discussed issues of “regional security and economic priorities… US Covid-19 relief efforts, India-China border situation, and our support for Afghanistan”. Jaishankar said they also “focused on Indo-US vaccine partnership aimed at expanding access and ensuring supply”. He tweeted: “Appreciated strong solidarity expressed by US at this time.”

He also said that this covered the Indo-Pacific and the Quad, Afghanistan, Myanmar, UNSC matters and other international organizations. “Today’s talks have further solidified our strategic partnership and enlarged our agenda of cooperation,” he tweeted.

Acting Assistant Secretary at the US State Department Dean Thompson said that on the allocation of 80 million vaccine doses, “final decisions are still pending and discussions and work is still underway to determine how and where those will be done.”

Thompson said that US President Joe Biden has talked of a donation of up to 80 million doses – 60 million doses of AstraZeneca which will not be used in the United States immediately, as well as an additional 20 million doses over and above what is needed within the US.

“The 60 million doses of AstraZeneca are still undergoing control checks by FDA and they will become available once those have been completed and so I don’t have a specific timeframe to get, but I do hope that we will have news about those in the coming weeks,” he said. “There will be a combination of efforts with COVAX and with our – with partners as we go forward. But those efforts are still underway.”

Denying there was any export ban, Thompson said: “The President has been very clear that we’re working to be in a position to be able to share vaccines as well as knowhow with countries in real need, and our top priority is just making sure that we’re doing everything we can to save lives and end the pandemic. It’s a global challenge, it requires a global response, and there – just want to reiterate there’s no ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine inputs,” Thompson said.

Flagging off the meeting, Blinken said: “We are united in confronting Covid-19 together, we (are) united in dealing with the challenge posed by climate change, to partner together directly, through Quad and other institutions in the United Nations in dealing with many of the challenges that we face in the region and around the world…The partnership between the United States and India is vital. It’s strong. And I think it’s increasingly predominant.”

Echoing Blinken, Jaishankar said: “We have a lot of issues to discuss. But our relations have grown stronger over the years and I’m very confident we’ll continue to do so, but I also want to take the opportunity to express to the Secretary and through him to the administration of the United States for the strong support and solidarity at a moment of great difficulty for us.”

At this point, Blinken said, “We remember, in the earlier days of the pandemic, India was there with the United States. Something we’ll never forget. And now we want to make sure that we’re there for and with India.”

Although Washington has not decided how its 80 million doses will be distributed, India is likely to be one of the beneficiaries — be it AstraZeneca, which is already made and distributed in India as Covishield; or the ones by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, or a mix.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine is not authorised for use in the United States yet. The US had cited faults in a plant in Baltimore that is manufacturing both AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines.

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