After days of pressure on the U.S. government to respond with aid for the surging COVID-19 crisis in India, an arrangement is underway that will see the deployment of vaccines in the coming weeks, as well as health advisors, raw materials, personal protective equipment (PPE), and funding.
“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need,” President Joe Biden tweeted Sunday.
On Monday, the White House said that approximately 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine could be released if and when the Food and Drug Administration completes its review, which could happen in the coming weeks. There are also an estimated additional 50 million doses of vaccine in various production stages that could be completed in stages across May and June.
The decision followed a phone call between U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his counterpart in India, Ajit Doval. The pair committed to expand their national partnership in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and reckoned with the stark reality that their nations have experienced the highest number of COVID-19 cases since the crisis began.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India has suffered more than 195,000 COVID-19 deaths. It has also administered more than 130 million doses of vaccines. Yet, the case count is exploding, and the news has been filled with reports of oxygen shortages throughout the nation. The country has also hit a new high mark for deaths.
“Hoarding of injections like remdesivir and oxygen in homes is creating a panic, and this hoarding is causing a shortage of these medicines,” Dr. Randeep Guleria, Director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, said. “COVID19 is mild infection and 85-90 percent [of] people will only suffer from cold, fever, sore throat, and body ache. Only symptomatic treatment at home is enough to ride through these infections, and there is no need for oxygen or remdesivir.”
Concern has been growing internationally as the situation spiraled.
“Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to intensify,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said. “Cases have now increased for the 9th straight week, & deaths have increased for the 6th straight week. To put it in perspective, there were almost as many cases last week as in the first five months of the pandemic. It’s pleasing to see small declines in cases and deaths in several regions, but many countries are still experiencing intense COVID-19 transmission, and the situation in India is beyond heartbreaking.”
He described what’s happening in India as a devastating reminder of what the virus can do.
According to NSC spokesperson Emily Horne, the United States will seek to aid the situation through around-the-clock deployment of available resources and supplies. It has already identified sources of specific raw material needed for India to immediately manufacture the Covishield vaccine.
“To help treat COVID-19 patients and protect front-line health workers in India, the United States has identified supplies of therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that will immediately be made available for India,” Horne said. “The United States also is pursuing options to provide oxygen generation and related supplies on an urgent basis.”
Recognizing that more than just materials are needed to reverse course, however, Horne added that the U.S. Development Finance Corporation will fund an expansion of the manufacturing capability for India’s vaccine manufacturer, BioE, with an end goal of producing at least 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2022. Emergency resources are being fast-tracked. Additionally, the United States will dispatch Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts to advise and assist the U.S. Embassy, India’s health ministries, and India’s Epidemic Intelligence Service staff.
Other countries, including the UK, France, and Germany, have also pledged aid for India.
Still, in the United States, some are pushing for the release of the nation’s stockpile of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The United States has neither used that vaccine internally nor granted it regulatory approval but has already opened it to use by Mexico and Canada to help clamp down on COVID-19. Currently, that stockpile consists of more than 20 million doses.