U.S. To Send Raw Vaccine Supplies To India As It Battles Massive Surge In COVID-19 Cases

On Monday, India reported more than 350,000 new COVID-19 cases—more daily infections than any country since the beginning of the pandemic.

A man walks by funeral pyres of people who died from the coronavirus at a crematorium in New Delhi, India. | Getty
A man walks by funeral pyres of people who died from the coronavirus at a crematorium in New Delhi, India. | Getty

The Biden administration announced on Sunday that it “will send specific raw material” to help India manufacture vaccines as the country of 1.4 billion buckles under a massive surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need,” President Biden tweeted on April 25.

The United States is “working around the clock” to send India raw materials to expand the country’s production of the AstraZeneca vaccine, according to National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne. The decision comes after the U.S. faced increasing pressure to aid coronavirus-stricken India.

In addition, Horne said the U.S. will immediately send medical supplies, including therapeutics, testing kits, ventilators, and PPE to India.

“The United States also is pursuing options to provide oxygen generation and related supplies on an urgent basis,” Horne said in a statement.

On Monday, India reported more than 350,000 new COVID-19 cases. That’s the greatest number of single-day cases reported by any country in the world since the beginning of the pandemic, and Monday is the fifth straight day that India has broken that record. More than 2,800 people died from the virus on Monday in India. Hospital ICUs are full, medical supplies — including ventilators and oxygen — are running low, and crematoriums are overwhelmed.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) commended the Biden administration’s decision to send help to India, but urged further action.

“The Biden Administration can still do more, like give India our stockpile of AstraZeneca vaccines that won’t be used in the U.S. and have already opened up to Mexico and Canada,” the vice chair of the India Caucus said in a statement on April 25. “The Administration should also call on Pfizer and Moderna to provide an intellectual property waiver for six months to a year as India grapples with the crises.”

The U.S. plans to share its stockpile of AstraZeneca vaccine doses with other countries “during the next few months,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on April 26. The U.S. is sitting on millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that haven’t yet been used because the FDA hasn’t granted the vaccine emergency use authorization.

The AstraZeneca announcement was first reported Monday by the Associated Press.

“Given the strong portfolio of vaccines that the United States has already authorized and that is available in large quantities, including two two-dose vaccines and one one-dose vaccine, and 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,” Psaki said during the press conference.

Once the FDA reviews the doses “for product quality,” they’ll be sent to other countries. The White House did not specify which countries will receive the up to 60 million doses.

“I anticipate in the near future, our team will share more details about our planning and who will be receiving doses from here but we’re in the planning process at this point in time,” Psaki said.

Last month, the Biden administration announced it’s loaning 4M doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with Canada and Mexico.

President Biden spoke directly with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday. The White House released a readout of the call around the same time that the AP reported the announcement about sharing AstraZeneca doses.

“The President pledged America’s steadfast support for the people of India who have been impacted by the recent surge in COVID-19 cases,” according to the readout. “Prime Minister Modi expressed appreciation for the strong cooperation between both countries.”

Daily reported infections in India began decreasing in September 2020 after a peak of approximately 100,000 daily new cases. Experts attribute the current surge, which began in March 2021, to a combination of factors, including a more complacent public, large political and religious gatherings, and the presence of more infectious variants.

“There was a public narrative that India had conquered COVID-19,” Princeton University epidemiologist Ramanan Laxminarayan told Nature.

As grim as they are, the virus-related fatality numbers being reported aren’t telling the full story, according to University of Michigan epidemiologist Bhramar Mukherjee.

“It’s a complete massacre of data,” Mukherjee said to The New York Times. “From all the modeling we’ve done, we believe the true number of deaths is two to five times what is being reported.”

In total, India has reported 17 million cases of the coronavirus, including approximately 195,000 deaths, since the pandemic began. The U.S. has reported more than 32 million and more than 570,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

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