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Biden says ‘doing a lot for India’ to meet Covid crisis

Washington: US President Joe Biden said that Washington is ‘doing a lot’ for India in terms of COVID-19 aid. Biden said that PM Narendra Modi told him that India needs raw materials for vaccine production, which are being sent by the US to India.

“We’re helping Brazil and India, significantly I spoke to Prime Minister Modi what he needs most is (raw) materials to be able to make the vaccines, we’re sending them that, we’re sending them oxygen, we’re doing a lot for India,” Biden said.

Biden said that his government has sent the AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada, Mexico and other countries. “I am not prepared to announce who else will be getting the vaccine, but we’re going to send 10 percent of what we’ve to other nations (including Brazil and India) by the 4th of July,” he further said.

“We’re helping India significantly,” he said.

Biden’s Spokesperson Jen Psaki said that the US government was sending ingredients for making 20 million doses of AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine from supplies that it had ordered.

These ingredients had been ordered on a priority basis by invoking the Defense Production Act to supply to companies under contract to make vaccines for it.

The US is unlikely to need the 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that it had contracted because it has adequate supplies of the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

She said that the total value of the COVID-19 aid will exceed $100 million.

Psaki said that six air shipments funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) with oxygen and oxygen supplies, N95 masks, rapid diagnostic tests, medicines and components requested by the Indian government have already been sent.

“At the request of the government of India, USAID provided these urgently needed supplies to the Indian Red Cross to ensure they reach those most in need as quickly as possible,” she said.

India is in dire need of oxygen and USAID sent about 1,500 oxygen cylinders that will remain in India and can repeatedly be refilled locally, 550 concentrators to obtain oxygen from ambient air and a large-scale unit to support up to 20 patients, she said.

She said that 2.5 million N95 masks have been sent and an additional 12.5 million are available if the Indian government asked for them, she said.

One million rapid diagnostic tests and 20,000 treatment courses of the antiviral drug Remdesivir have also been sent, she said.

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US to send stockpile AstraZeneca Covid vaccine to other countries

The United States plans to ship its stockpile of millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses overseas, a move aimed at helping other countries struggling with a lack of doses to vaccinate their populations.

White House Covid-19 adviser Andy Slavitt said in a tweet Monday that 60 million doses of the vaccine would be sent to other countries “as soon as they become available.”

The decision comes as the pandemic has spiked in India, where thousands are dying daily as the nation’s stressed hospitals struggle to treat the virus. President Joe Biden spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi Monday and administration officials said Monday they are sending a range of supplies to India, including oxygen equipment, raw materials used in vaccine production, rapid testing kits, and the treatment Remdesivir.

Public health officials, lawmakers and world leaders have been urging the U.S. to release some of its stockpile of the AstraZeneca vaccine to other countries that have cleared it for use while American reviews of safety and efficacy data continue. Slavitt didn’t mention names of countries to which the vaccine doses would be sent.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said no doses will be shared until the Food and Drug Administration has concluded its review, which should take several more weeks. She said the U.S. currently has 10 million doses and expects an additional 50 million to be delivered by the company during May and June.

“Given that AstraZeneca is not authorized for use in the United States, we do not need to use AstraZeneca in our fight against Covid over the next few months,” she said. “Before any AstraZeneca doses are shipped from the United States, the FDA will confirm any such doses meet its expectation for product quality.”

Astra Zeneca vaccine has suffered from delays after “very rare” incidents of blood clots and questions over the data the company submitted to the FDA.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., who sits on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, and other lawmakers have been urging the U.S. to share its stockpile of doses with India.

“We cannot allow these vaccine doses to go unused, we should send them abroad where they can be used and they can save lives, right now,” he said on MSNBC.

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Release AstraZeneca vaccine to India: Indian-American lawmaker Raja Krishnamoorthi to Biden

Indian-American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi on Saturday called on US President Joe Biden’s administration to release doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to countries, including India, currently experiencing massive and deadly surges in the spread of COVID-19.

“We are currently sitting on close to 40 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the US stockpile, a stockpile which we’re not using and which we’ve already opened to combat COVID 19 in Mexico and Canada,” Krishnamoorthi said in a statement.

“In order to curb the spread of this virus internationally and to protect public health and our international economy, we need to get these vaccines out the door now. I respectfully but strongly call on the Biden Administration to release millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses to countries hardest-hit by the spread of COVID-19, including India, Argentina, and potentially others,” he added.

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India to vaccinate all over 45 from April 1

New Delhi: People who are 45 and older can be vaccinated from April 1, the government said Tuesday, ramping up the nationwide inoculation drive at a time Covid cases have surged in many states. “I appeal to every citizen who is 45 or above to register for vaccination,” Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said, announcing the cabinet decision to expand the drive that started in January.

So far, only citizens above 60 and those over 45 with other illnesses are allowed to get vaccination. A meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to vastly widen its reach to cover much more of the population. Those 45 and above can start registering for vaccination from April 1.

“This decision has been taken by cabinet on the basis of the advice of the coronavirus Task Force and experts,” said Javadekar.

He asserted that there was no shortage of vaccines and more were on the way.

According to the minister, 4.85 crore people have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine and 80 lakh have received the second dose.

On the center’s letter to states to increase the gap between two doses of Serum Institute of India’s Covishield developed by Oxford-Astrazeneca – Javadekar said doctors would prescribe the right time for the second dose.

“The second dose has to be between four to eight weeks. Doctors will decide when it is best to take the second shot,” the Union Minister said.

Vaccinations rolled out with two vaccines – Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin — on January 16 with healthcare workers. Frontline workers were declared eligible for the shots February 2 onwards.

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India’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout has ‘rescued the world’ from pandemic says top US scientist

Houston: The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines by India in collaboration with leading global institutions has “rescued the world” from the deadly coronavirus and the contributions by the country must not be underestimated, a top American scientist has said.
India is called the pharmacy of the world during the Covid-19 pandemic with its vast experience and deep knowledge in medicine. The country is one of the world’s biggest drug-makers and an increasing number of countries have already approached it for procuring coronavirus vaccines.

Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston during a recent webinar said that the two mRNA vaccines may not impact the world’s low and middle income countries but India’s vaccines, made in collaboration with universities across the world such as BCM and the Oxford University, have “rescued the world” and its contributions must not be underestimated.
During the webinar, “Covid-19: Vaccination and Potential Return to Normalcy – If and When”, Dr Hotez, an internationally-recognized physician-scientist in neglected tropical diseases and vaccine development, said that the Covid-19 vaccine rollout is “India’s gift” to the world in combating the virus.
India’s drugs regulator gave emergency use authorization to Covishield, produced by Pune-based Serum Institute of India after securing license from British pharma company AstraZeneca, and Covaxin, indigenously developed jointly by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech and Indian Council of Medical Research scientists.
The webinar was organized by the Indo American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston (IACCGH).
“This is something very special and I see it myself because I’m on weekly teleconferences with our colleagues in India, you make a recommendation, and within days it’s done and not only done, but it’s done well and with incredible rigor and thought and creativity,” Dr Hotez said, stressing that he felt compelled to make this statement because “India’s huge efforts in combating global pandemic is a story that’s not really getting out in the world.”
Dr Hotez, considered as the authority on vaccinations, is working on an affordable coronavirus vaccine in collaboration with Indian pharmaceutical companies.
Consul general of India in Houston, Aseem Mahajan, along with a distinguished panel of doctors participated in this webinar, that tracked the possibilities of a return to some semblance of normality due to the accelerated roll out of vaccines across the country.
Appreciating Dr Hotez for commending India’s efforts in getting vaccines to the world, consul general Mahajan, said, “In keeping with our tradition of sharing with the world, India has exported vaccines to many countries across the world.”
India has provided 56 lakh doses of coronavirus vaccines under grants assistance to a number of countries. The vaccines were sent to Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles.
There has also been a boost in the collaborative medical partnerships emerging between the US and India during this pandemic. In addition, India is one of the fourth largest destinations in Asia for medical devices manufacturing and many US companies have expressed interest in collaborating on this front, Mahajan said.

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Indian vaccine makers decry US use of wartime powers to protect supplies

Two of India’s top vaccine manufacturers making AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson shots have warned that the world’s vaccine production is being threatened by America’s pandemic export controls.

Mahima Datla, chief executive of pharmaceutical company Biological E, said US suppliers claim they may not be able to fulfil orders to global clients because of Washington’s use of the Defense Production Act.

Calling for urgent international intervention, Datla told the Financial Times: “It’s not only going to make the scale up for Covid vaccines difficult, but because of this it’s going to make manufacturing of routine vaccines extremely difficult.”

Both US President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump have invoked the Korean war era DPA during the pandemic to secure priority supplies of materials needed to control the disease. But with the US having ordered more than enough doses for every adult in the US, American suppliers are struggling to make enough to fulfil contracts outside the country.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a spokesperson said last week: “The president is deeply focused on the issue of expanding global vaccination, manufacturing, and delivery, which will all be critical to end the pandemic.”

Drugmakers around the world are struggling to increase production as countries trade accusations of “vaccine nationalism”. Last week, European Council president Charles Michel said the UK had introduced a ban on vaccine exports, a claim denounced by Boris Johnson’s government. The EU has urged the US to allow free flow of drug supplies to address its vaccine shortage.

The White House said in response it was “in close touch with the EU regarding our shared concerns regarding vaccines.”

On Friday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization director-general, also warned of global shortages of vital components, which were limiting the production of Covid-19 shots but also jabs used for routine childhood immunizations. He said some countries had imposed legal restrictions, which was “putting lives at risk” and called on nations not to stockpile supplies. “We’re all interdependent,” he said. “No country can simply vaccinate its way out of this.”

Datla, whose company is manufacturing Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, said the DPA meant suppliers were “reluctant to commit that they will stick to their delivery timelines”.

“The supply chain challenges are going to make scaling up extremely difficult.”

Biological E, a family run pharmaceutical business based in Hyderabad, supplies vaccines to WHO and Unicef for distribution around the world.

It is developing a Covid-19 vaccine in partnership with US pharmaceutical company Dynavax Technologies Corporation and the Baylor College of Medicine with a target of producing 1bn doses. The company is also manufacturing at least 1bn doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by the end of 2022.

Datla’s remarks come after Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, warned that the Defense Production Act could undermine the global vaccination effort. 

“The Novavax vaccine, which we’re a major manufacturer for, needs these items from the US,” Poonawalla said. “We are talking about having free global access to vaccines but if we can’t get the raw materials out of the US — that’s going to be a serious limiting factor.”

Datla said she was hopeful that after a Friday meeting between the Quad — a diplomatic and security initiative between the US, Japan, India and Australia — that the supply situation could be resolved. (ft.com)

Mahima Datla, MD, Biological E (Image courtesy: ANI)
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Germany, Italy, France stop AstraZeneca vaccine, WHO says it’s safe

The EU’s largest countries joined a stream of states halting their rollouts of AstraZeneca jabs on Monday over blood clot fears, as the World Health Organization and Europe’s medicines watchdog insisted it was safe to use.

Both organizations will hold special meetings this week after a host of countries said they would stop using the vaccine pending further review.

The fresh suspensions were a major blow to a global immunization campaign that experts hope will help end a pandemic that has already killed over 2.6 million people and decimated the global economy.

The three largest EU countries — Germany, Italy and France — all paused rollouts on Monday and were later joined by Spain, Portugal, Slovenia and Latvia.

The suspensions were not limited to Europe, with Indonesia also announcing a delay to its rollout of the jab, which is cheaper than its competitors and was billed as the vaccination of choice for poorer nations.

But the WHO insisted countries should keep using the vaccine, adding that it had scheduled a meeting of its experts on Tuesday to discuss the vaccine’s safety.

“We do not want people to panic and we would, for the time being, recommend that countries continue vaccinating with AstraZeneca,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said.

“So far, we do not find an association between these events and the vaccine,” she said, referring to reports of blood clots from several countries.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is holding a special meeting on Thursday, echoed the WHO’s calls for calm and said it was better to get the vaccine than not.

“The benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19, with its associated risk of hospitalization and death, outweigh the risks of side effects,” the agency said in a statement Monday.

The UK has doled out more than 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab — more than the entire EU — apparently without major problems.

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Sri Lanka cancels Imran’s speech to avoid ‘clash’ with India: Report

Colombo: In an effort to avoid confrontation with India, Sri Lanka has cancelled a scheduled speech of Prime Minister Imran Khan in Parliament.

According to a report titled ‘Sri Lanka avoids clash with India by cancelling Khan’s Parliament speech’ by Dar Javed published in Colombo Gazette, the Colombo government cannot risk its relations with India when it is getting stuck in the Chinese debt-trap and India being the savior for the world for distributing Covid-19 vaccines.

India has recently gifted 5 lakh doses of Covishield vaccines to Sri Lanka.

In past recent months, there have been anti-Muslim sentiments in Sri Lanka as Buddhist people have been protesting on issues such as animal sacrifices in mosques.

It is expected that Imran Khan would have used the Muslim card during his visit to Sri Lanka. He had played the same card during his visit to Afghanistan last year.

Javed said that the Pakistan Prime Minister in 2012 had supported the Taliban saying the terror activities were “holy war” that is justified by Islamic law.

“He has used the United Nations General Assembly to rake up Muslim cause, which has often been perceived as interference in the internal matters of the other countries. In October 2020, he urged the Muslim-majority countries to protest after French President Emmanuel Macron expressed concerns over the murder of a teacher by an Islamist radical. He wrote to the leaders of Muslim-majority countries ‘to counter the growing Islamophobia in non-Muslim states’,” the author stated.

Looking at the past incidents, it is evident that “giving him (Imran Khan) a platform like Parliament to speak would be like to dice with death”.

“He would use the platform to make statements that will have “serious ramifications” for both the Buddhist people of Sri Lanka and the Rajapaksa government at the international level.”

While Imran Khan seems eager to raise the issue of the treatment of Muslims in other countries, the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women report had stated that the religious freedom in the country has continued to deteriorate.

The commission further noted that the minorities in Pakistan are treated as second-class citizens. Besides, several Buddhist heritage sites in Pakistan were recently demolished.

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Miss England Bhasha Mukherjee gets Covid vaccine, endorses its safety

First Indian-origin Miss England and frontline National Health Service (NHS) doctor Bhasha Mukherjee has received her first of the two COVID-19 jabs and endorsed the safety of the vaccines being rolled out among those most at risk from coronavirus.

The 25-year-old beauty queen and a medical professional has been working on the COVID frontlines at Pilgrim Hospital in Lincolnshire and Royal Derby Hospital in eastern England ever since she flew back from a humanitarian tour of India at the peak of the pandemic in April 2020.

As a healthcare ambassador for the British Indian community, the junior doctor has been active in spreading safety messages among ethnic minority groups which have been acknowledged as being at a higher risk from the deadly virus.

“It’s good to know I’m protected and I’m sure my colleagues feel the same,” said Mukherjee.

“I’m thankful as being BAME [black, Asian, minority ethnic], I’m in a high-risk group. I feel so grateful to be in the position to have received the vaccine when millions are in the waiting line across the globe. My prayers are with everyone who’s waiting patiently at home, including my own family members who I hope will get their vaccines soon too,” she said.

In reference to no adverse side effects from the jab, she added: “After a few hours, I even did a Zoom home workout and press-ups, all to celebrate.”

Under the NHS accelerated vaccination program, the Pfizer/Biontech and Astrazeneca vaccines to immunize against COVID–19 are being administered to the priority groups of over-70s, care home residents and staff, and NHS workers at the frontline of combatting coronavirus.

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