By Arul Louis
New York, April 24 (IANS) US President Joe Biden’s administration is “working closely” with Indian officials to find ways to help the country facing its worst Covid-19 surge, according to his spokesperson Jen Psaki.
However, neither she nor other officials would say on Friday if the US would lift the embargo on exporting vaccine raw materials, which India has requested, or share the unused stockpile of AstraZeneca vaccines.
“We are working closely with Indian officials at both political and experts’ level to identify ways to help address the crisis,” she said on Friday.
“There are ongoing discussions,” she said at “a range of levels about how we can help get through this period”.
While sidestepping the questions of providing vaccines or raw materials for it, Psaki spoke of the assistance the US had provided for the pandemic and for other health programmes.
She said: “From the earliest stages of the pandemic, we’ve provided India with emergency relief supplies, medical consumables, pandemic training for Indian state and local health officials, and ventilators.”
Psaki claimed that the US has also given $1.4 billion in health assistance to help it “prepare for pandemics in the future and deal with the current one we’re facing”.
The $1.4 billion cited by her was the total US aid for health programmes in India over a 20-year period according to USAID, the agency that channels international assistance.
Only $5.9 million was given directly for dealing the Covid-19 pandemic, and it was last year by former President Donald Trump.
At the State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter, who was also asked about the ban on vaccine raw materials export, avoided a direct answer.
Instead, she said, “We have continued to work closely with India to facilitate the movement of essential supplies and also address the bottlenecks of their supply chains. But we’ll also continue to collaborate with our partners in India to battle this at the highest level.”
She added, “We remain deeply engaged with India at all levels as we work to combat this crisis of the pandemic together.”
At another briefing, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients was asked if the US would share with India the AstraZeneca vaccines that it has stockpiled but has not yet approved to use in the US.
He did not directly answer it; instead he said, “We have a longstanding commitment to India’s public ” and added that the US was “working closely with them in the Covid-19 response”.
The AstraZeneca vaccine that was developed by Oxford University is approved for use by the World Health Organization and in India under the brand name Covishield.
Zients also asserted that “the Quad partnership and team is providing assistance across government to the country”.
The Quad made up of India, the US, Australia and Japan has in fact agreed on a joint programme for the US and Japan to finance the manufacture of one billion of Covid-19 vaccine by India, which are to be distributed with Australian logistics.
By Arul Louis