The Indian crisis and America’s gold mine of AZ vaccine doses


A US Centers for Disease Control computer rendering of Covid-19


“What the country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds”
– Will Rogers

The whole world is focussed on the unfolding second wave of Covid-19 in India and in India, the focus is at least partly on the response it expects from the United States.

On that count, there was visible angst. The reassuring words of Biden administration officials were being measured against all that the US could – and should – be doing. The nearly $6million provided in Covid relief to India was not seen as nearly enough. Every statement of support was viewed as oleaginous and insincere.

And there had been some substantial statements. Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan tweeted on Sunday, April 25, that “we are deploying more supplies and resources”. And Anthony Fauci, Mr Biden’s chief medical advisor and director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, went on ABC News with a similar message. The US, he said, was considering sending  “oxygen supplies, Covid-19 tests, drug treatments, and personal protective equipment” to India.

But what about vaccines? That was the cry being heard from Indian medical professionals and pundits.

After all, isn’t the US sitting on millions of doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, which it has neither licensed for domestic use nor seems to need for its own people?

Apparently, the situation is not entirely straightforward on that count.  NDTV recently spoke to Dr Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and a Senior Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, DC, and he offered a very different explanation for America’s supposed parsimony with vaccines it doesn’t need and probably won’t ever use.

He suggested that Trump-era vaccine doses were contractually prohibited from being sent overseas but Biden-era ones could be disposed off as the administration sees fit. But in light of India’s massive public health crisis, he said, the time was right to either break contractual obligations or simply ship the vaccines over to US embassies in India, where they could be administered on American soil.

If that’s the case – and I’m not sure it is, considering the US made a “loan” of AZ to Mexico and Canada – then Mr Biden, I thought, would be on course to an even bigger, more desperately needed loan effort to India.

Sure enough, late on April 27, the US said  it would export 60 million AstraZeneca doses around the world in the coming weeks. Soon after, there was a promise to send vaccines to India.