US is under pressure to release vaccine supplies as India faces deadly surge

Funeral pyres have lit up the night sky in India's worst affected cities. PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Biden administration officials are coming under increasing pressure to lift restrictions on exports of supplies that vaccine makers in India say they need to expand production amid a devastating surge in Covid-19 deaths there.

Funeral pyres have lit up the night sky in the worst affected cities, and the country has set a global record of 350,000 new infections a day, which experts say could be a vast undercount.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in response to questions about the export ban that "the United States first and foremost is engaged in an ambitious and effective and, so far, successful effort to vaccinate the American people".

The export restrictions fall under the Defence Production Act, which former President Donald Trump invoked in the early days of the pandemic and President Joe Biden has used since February to boost vaccine production in the United States.

Mr Price's comments came Thursday (April 22), the day Biden assembled world leaders for a global climate summit that included Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The White House used the summit to promote global cooperation in the fight against climate change and declared that the US would help vulnerable countries, including India, deal with the ravages of rising temperatures.

"It's of course not only in our interest to see Americans vaccinated," Mr Price went on to say. "It's in the interests of the rest of world to see Americans vaccinated."

That did not go down well in India.

"By stockpiling vaccines & blocking the export of crucial raw materials needed for vaccine production, the United States is undermining the strategic Indo-US partnership," Mr Milind Deora, a politician from Mumbai, one of the hardest-hit cities, said on Twitter.

"This is pathetic. Is this what the US' "leadership" in the climate crisis will look like?" Ms Ulka Kelkar, director of the climate program at the India office of the World Resources Institute, a research and advocacy group, said in a Twitter message.

Mr Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India, a vaccine manufacturer, appealed to Biden earlier this month to "lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the US so that vaccine production can ramp up."

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