By Arul Louis
New York, June 3 (IANS) As US President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that India will receive Covid-19 vaccines directly from its stockpile, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the distribution, according to the White House.
Biden, who has faced international and domestic pressure to share the surplus vaccines, said he was releasing the first set of 25 million doses of which six million will be distributed between India, South Korea, Mexico and Canada.
The six million “will be shared directly with countries experiencing surges, those in crisis, and other partners and neighbours”, he said without a breakdown of how many will go to India.
Thursday’s call was likely the first interaction between Modi and Harris, who has criticised him in the past, although not since assuming office.
The White House said that she also spoke to Presidents Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico, and Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala, and Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad, who is also Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
She “notified each of the leaders that the Biden-Harris Administration will begin sharing the first 25 million doses of Covid vaccines to their respective countries and others, as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s framework for sharing at least 80 million vaccines globally by the end of June”, and they thanked her and “agreed to continue working together to address Covid-19 and advance our mutual interests around the world,” the White House said.
Biden said in his announcement that another seven million doses will be earmarked for South and Southeast Asia, but did not name the recipients.
These will be distributed through Covax, the international consortium for providing vaccines to developing countries under the World Health Organisation leadership.
Covax will also get six million doses earmarked for Latin America and the Caribbean, and five million for Africa.
“In the days to come, as we draw on the experience of distributing the vaccine doses announced today, we will have more details to provide about how future doses will be shared,” Biden said.
“The United States will be the world’s arsenal of vaccines in our shared fight against this virus,” he said.
Several members of Congress including Raja Krishnamoorthi have asked Biden to send vaccines to India, which is facing a deadly second wave surge of the pandemic.
“Our approach will be to ensure that it is distributed in an equitable manner around the world,” Biden’s Spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Wednesday.
While most of the requests for vaccines for India focused on the 60 million AstraZeneca vaccines in the US stockpile, Politico said that the vaccines being donated will be a mix of those made by Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, which is branded as Covishield in India, has not received the approval of the US Food and Drug Administration for use in the US.
Biden had so far resisted sharing the vaccines globally — except with Canada and Mexico — because he wanted to be sure that under any eventuality there would be enough for all Americans.
That was in contrast to India, Russia and China that made diplomatic splashes by donating vaccines.
Now nearly half the population of the US has been vaccinated, according to the Centres for Disease Control, giving Biden a breathing space.
While there is a global clamour for vaccines, the US is battling resistance to vaccinations from a sizeable part of the population.
Governments across the US are running lotteries with million-dollar prizes and scholarship as well giving out beer and pastries to coax those avoiding vaccinations to get their jabs.
According to some media reports, the US may have as many as 500 million surplus doses of vaccines in the coming months.
Former President Donald Trump had taken the risky step of ordering millions of doses of vaccines — far beyond the requirement of the US population of nearly 330 million — from several companies under his Operation Warpspeed even before the vaccines were being tested to ensure that there would be enough of any that obtained approval for use to cover the population.
This has led to the huge surplus.
(Arul Louis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed @arulouis)