US to provide vaccine components, medical supplies as India battles Covid-19 spike

India is in the grip of a rampaging second wave of the pandemic. PHOTO: NYTIMES

WILMINGTON, UNITED STATES (REUTERS, AFP) - The United States will immediately send raw materials for Covid-19 vaccines, medical equipment and protective gear to help India respond to a massive surge in coronavirus infections, US President Joe Biden said on Sunday (April 25).

"Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need," Biden said on Twitter after the White House announced a list of measures.

National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said US officials were "working around the clock" to deploy available resources and supplies to help India manufacture the Covishield vaccine and tend to the millions of Indians who are sick and dying. The United States will also send therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits and ventilators.

Washington was under mounting pressure to help India, the world's largest democracy, after Britain, France and Germany pledged aid over the weekend.

The United Kingdom is sending more than 600 pieces of medical kit to India, the government announced on Sunday. Nine airline container loads of supplies, including 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators, will be sent to the country this week.

France plans to supply India with "significant support in terms of oxygen" in the coming days, President Emmanuel Macron's office said on Sunday. Ventilators will also be sent, Agence France-Presse reported.

On Monday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Germany will send oxygen and medical aid to India in the coming day. A German defence ministry spokesman said the foreign ministry had asked the military to look into providing a mobile oxygen production facility as well as support to transport other emergency and relief goods to India.

The European Commission has also said it aims to send oxygen and medicines to India after receiving a request from Delhi.

Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged all citizens to be vaccinated and exercise caution, as the country set a global record for new Covid-19 infections in a single day.

The United States was also pursuing options to provide India with oxygen generation and related supplies, Horne said.

US Representative Ro Khanna, Democratic vice-chair of the Congressional India Caucus, welcomed the announcement but urged Biden to go further and give India the United States' unused Covid-19 vaccines doses from AstraZeneca.

"Let's use the US military and get as much oxygen and AstraZeneca doses to India as fast as we can," he said.

The top US infectious disease official, Dr Anthony Fauci, told ABC News on Sunday such a move was "something that certainly is going to be actively considered."

AstraZeneca's vaccine is not yet approved in the United States, which has stockpiled millions of doses, and top US health officials have said they have enough doses of approved versions by three other drugmakers to inoculate all Americans in coming weeks.

The nation's top business lobbying group has also pushed the administration to send AstraZeneca's vials to countries grappling with rising cases.

The White House had no comment on the possibility of providing AstraZeneca doses to India.

Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said the engagement of top Biden administration officials reflected a welcome "seriousness of purpose" in addressing the crisis in India, but details were lacking.

He said the messaging around any loan of AstraZeneca doses should be carefully prepared to avoid the impression that Washington would be offloading "something that it doesn't want."

Senior US officials have expressed concern that new variants of the virus emerging in India could undermine progress made in the US in fighting the pandemic.

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The Biden administration on Sunday said the United States stands ready to assist India as its healthcare system threatens to buckle under a tremendous Covid-19 surge, adding that Washington may even consider sending unused AstraZeneca vaccine doses.

The new wave of infections also threatens the economic recovery of India, the sixth-largest economy in the world.

Horne said the United States would send a team of experts to work with India from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and US Agency for International Development.

In addition to the immediate aid, the US Development Finance Corporation will fund a substantial expansion of manufacturing capability for Indian vaccine maker Biological E Ltd, or BioE, enabling the company to produce at least 1 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2022.

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