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Why Biden delayed offering help to India

By Frank F Islam

On April 24 the US announced that it will immediately make available raw materials requested by vaccine manufacturer Serum Institute of India (SII) and will also send supplies of therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and PPE  to India.

A statement released by the National Security Council, after a telephone conversation between US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, said additionally that Washington is “pursuing options to provide oxygen generation and related supplies on an urgent basis.” The statement, which came after two overnight tweets by Sullivan and secretary of state Antony Blinken, both indicating that help was on the way, put an end to a period of speculation on whether the US was abandoning India during what may be its worst humanitarian crisis since Independence.

The period of uncertainty began after Adar Poonawalla, CEO of SII (Serum Institute of India), appealed to President Joe Biden in an April 16 tweet to lift an “embargo of raw material exports out of the US so that vaccine production can ramp up” in India.

Six days later on April 22, a state department spokesperson answered in a way that sounded like Washington might not allow the export. The next day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki clarified, stating that the US is “working cl e osely with Indian officials at both political and experts’ level to identify ways to help address the crisis.”

Yet,  an impression was created that the Biden administration might not help India. On social media, there was speculation that US-India relations were strained. A few Indian analysts questioned the reliability of the US as a partner and suggested Russia may be a better ally.

While many of these theories have since been put to rest, questions arise as to why there was this period of uncertainty about what relief and support the US would provide to India.

There are three possible reasons for this: America’s own unfinished battle with the virus. The deliberative nature of the Biden White House decision-making process. And, the understandable desire to avoid a political controversy in the middle of the pandemic in the US.

First, even though Biden has exceeded his vaccination targets for his first 100 days in office, the US is still not out of woods. On April 24, more than 50,000 Americans tested positive for the dreaded virus and around 750 lives were lost.

That is why state department spokesperson pointed out on April 22, that the country “has been hit harder than any other country around the world” and the administration has “a special responsibility to the American people.”

Second, when it comes to decision-making, Biden is an institutionalist. He believes in getting feedback and inputs from different stakeholders before making a commitment to action.

Sunday’s announcement came following days of intense intra-agency discussions at the highest level, involving NSA officials, the department of state and the office of the US Trade Representative. Interestingly, until the Sullivan-Doval call, there was no official statement from the Indian side on the issue, indicating that those discussions were going on. Finally, in these divisive times in the US, the administration must be mindful of potential attacks from the nativist “America First” crowd if it appears to chart a course in the international arena that suggests that it cares more about foreign nationals than its own citizens. It is true that there is a bipartisan support for relations with India. But there are some elected officials who could exploit  the administration’s humanitarian and completely appropriate support for India and the world.

The good — and I should add expected — news is that the US is doing the right thing in lifting the embargo on vaccine ingredients and sending other critical supplies to India. The surprising thing is that there was ever any doubt or question that it would. The Biden administration also brings a compassion and moral understanding to the table that empowers it to do this as the right thing to fight this virus globally.

Frank F Islam is an entrepreneur, civic leader, and thought leader based in Washington DC.

 

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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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India beginning Covid vaccine drive from Jan 16

India beginning Covid vaccine drive from Jan 16

New Delhi: India is all set to kick off the vaccination drive against Covid-19 on January 16, the central government has said.

The rollout of Covid vaccine will provide priority to the healthcare workers and the frontline workers who are estimated to be around 3 crore, followed by those above 50 years of age and the under-50 population groups with co-morbidities numbering around 27 crore, reports  Indian Express.

The government has scheduled to start the drive just after the forthcoming festivals such as Lohri, Makar Sankranti, Pongal among others.

Giving the information, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “On 16th January, India takes a landmark step forward in fighting COVID-19. Starting that day, India’s nation-wide vaccination drive begins. Priority will be given to our brave doctors, healthcare workers, frontline workers including Safai Karamcharis.”

On Saturday, PM Modi chaired a high-level meeting to review status of COVID-19 in the country along with preparedness of the states and UTs for Covid vaccination. The meeting was attended by Cabinet Secretary, Principal Secretary to PM, Health Secretary, and other senior officials.

During his 16th Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas address on Saturday, PM Modi said India is ready with two vaccines for the protection of humanity and the world is not only waiting for them but also watching how the country runs the globe’s biggest vaccination program.

India’s drugs regulator recently approved Oxford COVID-19 vaccine Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute, and the indigenously developed Covaxin of Bharat Biotech for restricted emergency use in the country. Two dry runs of the vaccines have also been conducted across the country to understand the best way to administer them and plug loopholes in logistics and training.

Modi lauded India’s fight against COVID-19 and said we are among the countries with the lowest fatality rate and the highest recovery rate. He also said the way the country stood together during the pandemic was unparalleled. “Being the pharmacy of the world, India has supplied important medicines to all those in need in the world and continues to do so”, he said.

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We never mentioned to vaccinate entire population: India

New Delhi: In the wake of reporting of two adverse events which occurred with the volunteers during the vaccine trial, the fear and hesitation among the people to take the vaccine is growing. However, the union health ministry has said that the government doesn’t intend to immunise each individual with the Covid-19 vaccine.

“There is an inherent issue of vaccine hesitancy which may have nothing to do with adverse events. A section of population thinks that it does not require vaccination,” stated Rajesh Bhushan, union health secretary during a press briefing.

Prof Balram Bhargava, Director General (DG) of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) also said that the government aims to break the chain of the virus first by vaccinating a critical mass of the population. “Our purpose is to break the chain of the virus. If we are able to vaccinate a critical mass of people and break virus transmission then we may not have to vaccinate the entire population,” he added.

However he also added that the efficacy of the vaccine is an issue leading to hesitancy among the people to undergo the vaccination since it may remain 60% effective in some individuals while it may reach 70% efficacy in others.

However, Bhushan stated that it is the responsibility of the Union and the state government to allay fears among the people regarding the vaccine. “It is the states and union government’s responsibility to educate the people about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine while countering the disinformation,” he said.

The union health secretary also informed that the government is preparing detailed guidelines regarding vaccine administration which may come within the next two weeks. “One of the issues mentioned in the guidelines deals with the aspect of vaccine safety. Our aim is to tell people what would be the effect and benefit of taking a vaccine to a person and at large,” Bhushan said.

Meanwhile, Bhargava stressed upon the importance of masks, stating that it is vitally important now and will continue to be even after the vaccination. “Since we would be starting the vaccination with a small population, the use of masks has to be continued as it is effective in breaking the chain of the virus,” he explained.

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PM Modi takes 3 city tour in a day to review vaccine work

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday visited Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Pune to review coronavirus vaccine development work there.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said the day-long visit was aimed at getting a first-hand perspective of the preparations, challenges and roadmap in India’s endeavor to vaccinate its citizens.
Modi began by visiting pharma major Zydus Cadila’s manufacturing facility near Ahmedabad. Wearing a PPE kit, he reviewed the vaccine development process at the company’s research center, located over 20 km from Ahmedabad.
Modi was extensively briefed about the vaccine work at the plant by the company officials. He was briefed about the vaccine production procedure. He interacted with scientists and vaccine developers, an official said.
“Visited the Zydus Biotech Park in Ahmedabad to know more about the indigenous DNA based vaccine being developed by Zydus Cadila. I compliment the team behind this effort for their work. Government of India is actively working with them to support them in this journey,” Modi tweeted after the visit.
Zydus Cadila chairman Pankaj Patel recently said the company is aiming to complete the vaccine trial by March 2021, and could produce up to 100 million doses a year.
Modi spent over an hour at the plant, before leaving for the airport, from where he left for Hyderabad at 11.40 am.
Modi landed at Hakimpet Air Force station near Hyderabad around 1 pm and proceeded to pharma major Bharat Biotech’s vaccine manufacturing facility at Genome valley, located around 20 km from the air station, by road.
At the facility, he reviewed the progress of Covaxin, a vaccine candidate being developed by the company. He also interacted with Bharat Biotech Chairman and Managing Director Krishna Ella, scientists and senior management.
“At the Bharat Biotech facility in Hyderabad, was briefed about their indigenous COVID-19 vaccine. Congratulated the scientists for their progress in the trials so far. Their team is closely working with ICMR to facilitate speedy progress,” Modi tweeted after his hour-long visit there.
Covaxin, being developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and National Institute of Virology, is undergoing phase-3 trials.
At 3.20 pm, Modi took off for Pune, where he landed at 4.30 pm. From the airport, Modi proceeded by helicopter to the Serum Institute of India (SII) at Manjari, located 17 km from the airport.
Modi interacted with scientists at the Serum Institute of India and went around the facility, taking stock of vaccine development work being carried out there, before leaving for the Pune airport around 6 pm on the way back to Delhi. 
Modi’s visit to SII was aimed at reviewing the progress of the vaccine candidate for coronavirus and to know about its launch, production and distribution mechanism, an official said. Serum Institute of India has partnered with pharma giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University for the vaccine.

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Serum Institute’s Adar Poonawalla warns millions globally won’t get Covid vaccines till 2024

By The SATimes News Service

Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of Serum Institute of India (SII), has warned there won’t be enough vaccines against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) for everyone in the world till the end of 2024, according to a report on Monday.

The CEO of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer has estimated that the world will need around 15 billion doses of the Covid-19 shot if it is a two-dose vaccine. “It’s going to take four to five years until everyone gets the vaccine on this planet,” Poonawalla told the Financial Times.

The Pune-based pharma firm has partnered with five international pharmaceutical firms, including AstraZeneca and Novavax, to develop a Covid-19 vaccine and committed to producing one billion doses, of which it has pledged half to India.

Poonawalla’s remarks came a day after Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said a vaccine against the coronavirus disease would be ready by early next year. “It may be ready by the first quarter of next year,” he had said.

On SII’s word to produce a billion doses, he said that the commitment far exceeded the capacity of other vaccine producers. “I know the world wants to be optimistic on it… [but] I have not heard of anyone coming even close to that [level] right now,” he told the business daily in a video call from London.

The Financial Times reported that as part of SII’s agreement with AstraZeneca, the firm will aim to produce vaccine doses that cost around $3 for 68 countries and under its agreement with Novavax, for 92 countries.

The company may also partner with Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute to manufacture the Sputnik vaccine, according to the newspaper.

Last week, human trials of the Oxford vaccine candidate by AstraZeneca were halted after a volunteer fell sick in the UK following which the Serum Institute of India also paused the trials as it was issued a show-cause notice by the Drug Controller of India. The trials, however, have resumed in Britain. (Source: hindustantimes.com)

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