October 16, 2021

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Biden pressured to donate COVID-19 vaccine to India – Business Insider

3 min read
  • Public-health experts and physicians are urging the US to donate vaccine doses to India.
  • India’s COVID-19 surge is shattering world records. The country recorded 349,691 new cases Sunday.
  • In the US, daily vaccination rates are down 19% from a peak, as supply starts to outstrip demand.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A growing chorus of doctors and public-health experts are urging President Joe Biden to donate coronavirus vaccine doses to India, which has rapidly deteriorated into the epicenter of the pandemic. 

India recorded 349,691 new cases on Sunday, smashing a global record for a fourth consecutive day. Hospitals are being overrun and medical supplies are in short supply. Vaccinations have also been few and far between in the world’s second-most populous country, with less than 2% of the population fully immunized.

India provides the most glaring example of the inequity in vaccine distribution, where rich nations have bought up the vast majority of supply. In the US, 53% of all adults have received at least one dose and 36% are fully vaccinated. The rate of infections and deaths have fallen by about 75% since January peaks, and much of the US has already started to reopen. 

Perhaps the sharpest contrast between the two countries is shown in the latest US vaccination figures. The seven-day average of number of shots being given daily in the US is down 17% from a recent peak of 3.35 million. Evercore ISI analysts attribute the decline to “softening demand,” as experts anticipate the US campaign is now inflecting from a supply to a demand challenge.

Public-health experts and doctors are now urging the US to do much more in assisting India. In particular, they are urging the Biden administration to relax restrictions on exporting raw materials needed for vaccines and to donate doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not authorized in the US.

The US government signed a deal with AstraZeneca last summer to eventually deliver 300 million doses of the shot. The US already has at least 30 million of those doses on hand, a supply which experts say would be best used by donating to other nations that need it.

“We need to get these doses donated to countries where supply is limited. Immediately. They do absolutely no good to anyone just sitting on a shelf,” said Dr. Craig Spencer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University’s medical center. “Donating money isn’t enough. Committing to future initiatives isn’t either.”

In an opinion piece published Saturday in The Washington Post, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, called for the US to help India scale up testing, establish field hospitals, provide more medical supplies like oxygen, and donate vaccine doses. 

“The United States has strategic interests in helping India weather the pandemic; it is also the right thing to do,” Jha wrote. “Only the United States has the capacity, resources and technical know-how to bend the curve of India’s catastrophic second wave of disease. The faster we assist our ally, the more lives will be saved.”

Top US officials respond, vow to take action

Under the increased pressure, top US officials have vowed to help India, but details have yet to be made public. 

“Our hearts go out to the Indian people in the midst of the horrific COVID-19 outbreak,” Anthony Blinken, US Secretary of State, wrote Saturday night on Twitter. “We are working closely with our partners in the Indian government, and we will rapidly deploy additional support to the people of India and India’s health care heroes.”

Part of the hesitation in donating vaccine doses has been uncertainty over the viral variants that are present in India, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert and Biden’s chief medical advisor.

Certain variants can partially evade the protection given by vaccines. For instance, AstraZeneca’s shot appeared to be particularly less protective against the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa, according to a 2,000-person clinical trial

 “They have a situation there where there are variants that have arisen,” Fauci said Friday at a White House COVID-19 task force briefing. “We have not yet fully characterized the variants and the relationship between the ability of the vaccines to protect. But we’re assuming, clearly, that they need vaccines.”

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