Updated: April 24, 2021 5:33:45 am
Days after Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla urged US President Joe Biden to lift the embargo on export of raw materials needed to ramp up production of Covishield and Covovax, the Covid-19 vaccines the company produces in India, the US State Department spokesperson has said the Biden administration’s first obligation is to take care of the requirements of the American people.
Hours later, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, along with Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister Mansukh Mandaviya met the vaccine manufacturers in India, including Poonawalla, to address the supply chain issues faced by the pharmaceuticals industry.
The meeting was also attended by senior officials from the MEA and the Chemicals and Fertilisers ministry and Indian ambassadors in the US, Germany and the EU.
“We have been working over the last few weeks to address supply chain issues faced by our pharma industry. Appreciated the updates and insights provided today… will strive to ensure that our supply chains are as smooth as possible in a difficult global situation. The world must support India, as India helps the world,” Jaishankar tweeted.
Besides Serum Institute’s Poonawalla, the meeting was attended by senior representatives from BharatBiotech, Zydus Cadilla, Dr. Reddy’s Lab, Biological E Ltd, Indian Immunologicals Ltd, Panacea Biotec, Cadila Healthcare, Gennova Biopharmaceuticals, HLL Biotech and Haffkine Bio-Pharmaceuticals.
Earlier this week, Jaishankar spoke to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and underlined that they discussed “issues pertaining to health cooperation”.
Indian officials have been in touch with the US administration officials over the issue, as Indian envoy to the US Taranjit Sandhu is learnt to have taken it up with American officials.
In Washington DC, earlier while responding to a question on when the Biden administration would decide on India’s request to lift the ban on the export of vaccine raw materials, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: “…the United States first and foremost is engaged in an ambitious and effective and, so far, successful effort to vaccinate the American people.”
“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.
“The point the Secretary (of State Antony Blinken) has made repeatedly is that as long as the virus is spreading anywhere, it is a threat to people everywhere. So as long as the virus is spreading uncontrolled in this country, it can mutate and it can travel beyond our borders. That, in turn, poses a threat well beyond the United States,” Price said responding to questions.
As for the rest of the world, “We will, of course, always do as much as we can, consistent with our first obligation,” he said.
In an April 16 post on Twitter, Poonawalla tagged the US President and said, “Respected @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 U.S. so that vaccine production can ramp up. Your administration has the details.”
Later, he had told The Indian Express: “The vaccine industry, outside the United States, needs plastic bags, filters and media solutions which are critical in the manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccine. For a month, we have been asking the US authorities, but they have not responded.”
“We are hoping that the Biden administration takes a more global perspective than the previous administration which was looking at only America and America first, that is our hope, our umeed,” he said.
The White House spokesperson said that the United States offers its “deepest sympathy to the people of India who are clearly suffering during this global pandemic and we are working closely with Indian officials at both political and experts level to identify ways to help address the crisis.”
“We’ve made vaccine cooperation, a big priority, including with our Quad partners. India is one of our Quad partners, of course, discussing vaccine creation and distribution for the future,” spokesperson Jen Psaki said, in response to questions.
“We’ve provided India with emergency relief supplies, medical consumables pandemic training for Indian state and local health officials and ventilators, which has been part of our effort over the course of time,” she said.
“So there are ongoing discussions, I don’t have anything more to preview, but we are in touch with them at a range of levels about how we can help get through this period and help them get through this period of time.”
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