New Delhi: Ahead of the US’s announcement on Thursday that it will be immediately sharing 25 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as a first tranche with the rest of the world, vice president Kamala Harris spoke with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to inform him that India would be among the countries to receive the doses.
In Washington, President Joe Biden announced that the US will donate 75% of its unused COVID-19 vaccines – around 80 million doses – by the end of June. Out of the 25 million doses in the first trance, 19 million will be distributed through the World Health Organisation (WHO)-backed COVAX vaccine sharing program. The remaining six million will be given to regional countries and partners.
Under the Covax facility, seven million doses have been allocated for Asia, which include fifteen countries and the Pacific island nations.
The White House factsheet also notes that the six million doses will be sent directly to at least 13 countries, including India, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan and UN frontline workers.
“The president made a commitment to ensure that India received doses, not just an allocation under regional allocation under COVAX, but our discretionary portion which was something he wanted to do,” US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said at a White House briefing after the announcement.
The White House COVID-19 Response Team coordinator Jeffrey Zients clarified that these 25 million doses are a mixture of vaccines from Johnson and Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer.
The unused 60 million AstraZeneca vaccines, which the US administration had committed to share globally, are still to be cleared for export by the Food and Drug Administration, he said.
In South Asia, all countries, except for Bhutan, will be receiving vaccines from the US through the COVAX facility.
A possible reason for the exception made for Bhutan could be that it has administered the first dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine to its entire population.
With India not exporting any more vaccines, Bhutan has been urgently seeking supplies from other countries as the deadline for the second dose is the last week of June. So far, no country has administered a second dose of another vaccine in a compatible way, although trials have shown encouraging results.
Ahead of the announcement in Washington, vice president Kamala Harris dialled Prime Minister Modi’s number.
“Vice president Harris informed the prime minister about the US’s plans to make vaccines against COVID-19 available to other countries, including India, under its ‘Strategy for Global Vaccine Sharing’. The prime minister expressed his appreciation to vice president Harris for the US decision, as well as for all other forms of support and solidarity that India has received in recent days from the US government, businesses and the Indian expatriate community in the US,” said the Indian government’s press note.
While these three US-made vaccines haven’t got permission for use in India yet, the Drugs Controller General of India had earlier this week announced that it will relax the rules for those vaccines that are listed by the WHO for emergency use and cleared by authorities in the US, EU, UK and Japan.
The Indian readout also said that the two leaders discussed strengthening the health supply chain between the US and India, including in the area of vaccine manufacturing. “They highlighted the potential of the India-US partnership as well as the Quad vaccine initiative in addressing the long-term health impact of the pandemic,” it said.
Besides the Indian PM, Harris also spoke with and notified three other leaders, Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrado, President Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala, and the chairman of the Caribbean Community, Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago.
India began its vaccination drive on January 16, but has faced severe shortages that also impacted its exports in the past two months. So far, it has fully vaccinated just 3.2% of its population. About 12.6% of the population has received one dose.