The US has decided to hand out 80 million Covid-19 vaccines from its surplus stocks to aid the global fight against the pandemic. While the entire allocation will be planned out by the end of June, an initial shipment of 25 million doses is to be distributed on priority among countries that are seen as needing it the most, including India.
How Many Doses Is India Getting? And When?
According to reports, the first tranche that comes to India will be of about 2-3 million doses. About 75%, or 19 million, of the initial allocation of 25 million doses is to be shared with countries through the Covax, the global initiative for ensuring equitable vaccine distribution around the world.
India’s supply will come from the approximately 7 million doses out of the total 25 million that has been earmarked for Asia. Other countries to benefit from this grant will include Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Maldives, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, and the Pacific Islands, the White House said.
The entire supply of 80 million vaccines is to be shipped out by the end of June, US officials said. As to the 25 million doses that are being released on priority, US officials said that “over the coming weeks, we’ll work to get those doses to countries and get shots in arms as soon as possible."
How Will The US Supplies Help India’s Vaccine Drive?
The 2-3 million doses that could be a part of the initial US package to India would be enough to fulfil only one day’s vaccination across India. On June 2, the country administered 2.46 million doses of the three vaccines — Covishield, Covaxin, Sputnik V — that have been cleared for use here. This means it can be expected that the maiden consignment of US vaccines will get used up in a jiffy.
What Are The Vaccines That India Will Receive?
According to a press briefing by White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients on June 3, “the 25 million (first tranche) will be comprised of… some combination of Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna".
But Aren’t There Issues With These 3 Vaccines Launching In India?
In early April 2021, the Centre had cleared the decks for vaccines okayed by the US, UK, European Union, Japan or the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be rolled out in India. However, this move to encourage more manufacturers to supply to India hasn’t yielded results as the likes of Pfizer and Moderna have sought waivers on legal liability and trials before they launch in India.
However, the government is now reportedly willing to grant the concessions sought by these companies, which should allow them to be available in India. The Centre may now grant indemnity from liability to these US pharma companies while the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has also waived the requirement for the testing every batch of foreign-made vaccines by the Central Drugs Laboratory and post-launch bridging trials for such firms.
In fact, the US announcement on vaccine assistance says that they will be made available subject to “pending legal and regulatory approvals".
Didn’t US Have Stocks Of The Oxford-AstraZeneca Shot That It Was Going To Share With India?
The US also has a stock of 60 million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines that is being administered in India as Covishield, but Zients said that it was not going to be a part of the first consignment as the vaccine is still being vetted by US regulators.
A US Embassy official had told a press meet in Delhi last month that “there are a number of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that were manufactured in a plant outside of Baltimore, but there were problems with this plant… So far the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not certified that these vaccines are available for anyone’s use, for export or not.”
What Is Covax, Through Which US Is Going To Share Bulk Of Its Vaccines?
Covax is an abbreviation for Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access, which is an international mechanism that was put in place to ensure fair and necessary access to vaccines across the world. It is led jointly by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and WHO.
According to Gavi, a global health partnership that promotes immunisation in poor countries, Covax is “one of three pillars of the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which was launched in April last year by the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission and France".
Gavi adds that Covax will “support the research, development and manufacturing of a wide range of Covid-19 vaccine candidates, and negotiate their pricing". The aim is to ensure that “all participating countries, regardless of income levels, will have equal access to these vaccines once they are developed". Covax aims to have 2 billion doses available by the end of 2021. According to a page maintained by Gavi on vaccine roll-out, “Covax has so far shipped over 79 million Covid-19 vaccines to 129 participants."
Of the 80 million vaccines that the US has now committed to other countries, 75% will be distributed through Covax. In a statement announcing this decision, the White House said “this will maximize the number of vaccines available equitably for the greatest number of countries and for those most at-risk within countries".
But the US did point out that it will work with Covax to decide which countries will be getting supplies from the US stock. “For doses shared through Covax, the US will prioritise Latin America and the Caribbean, South and Southeast Asia, and Africa, in coordination with the African Union," the statement said.
What Is The Status Of Vaccination In US? And Where Is India?
According to the White House, 52% of all adult Americans have been fully vaccinated. Further, cases are down by over 90% and deaths are down over 85% since Joe Biden took over in January. The US still leads the tallies for the highest number of cases and deaths. India, which is second on that list, has fully vaccinated only 3.2% of its population while a total of 12.5% of eligible people have received at least one shot.
Is The US Also Going To Ease Supply Of Vaccine Raw Materials?
The Pune-based Serum Institute of India, which is making the Covishield vaccine in India, had requested the US to free up exports of crucial ingredients that go into these shots. Donald Trump and his successor President Joe Biden have used the Defence Production Act to prioritise key supplies for domestic use during the pandemic. But the US has begun easing the restrictions on exports especially in the wake of the surge of second wave cases and deaths in India.
In its May press briefing, the US Embassy in Delhi had said “there are challenges in the global supply chain right now when it comes to… raw materials that are necessary for these vaccines." It had added that the Indian government has shared a list of raw materials with Washington and that US officials were “working closely with them to go through this list and decide what is available, what we can provide and how quickly we can provide that.”