The US has decided to deploy “more supplies and support” to help India deal with the ongoing second wave of Covid-19 cases. It comes amid mounting calls for the Biden administration to do more – from lawmakers and businesses – with an Indian-American tech billionaire even offering to fund “planeloads of oxygen”.
“The US is deeply concerned by the severe Covid outbreak in India,” tweeted US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Saturday. “We are working around the clock to deploy more supplies and support to our friends and partners in India as they bravely battle this pandemic. More very soon.”
Sullivan gave no details of what these “supplies and support” were and they could not be independently ascertained.
The Biden administration has faced mounting calls in recent days to do more on several fronts related to the pandemic’s resurgence in India.
Representatives and Senators, all Democrats, have called upon the government to back a proposal by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to grant temporary waiver from intellectual property rights protections to Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics and related technologies to make them easily accessible to all countries.
Another issue is related to raw materials needed for manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines in India, raised mostly by Indian pharma companies, with growing popular support.
US suppliers of these raw materials, which have 35 categories, are required to prioritise orders from American buyers over those coming from abroad. The Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) has called upon the US to “lift the embargo”, saying supplies of these raw materials are being held up.
Indian and US officials have been in talks on this matter at a high level. India’s external affairs minister S Jaishankar raised it with US secretary of state Antony Blinken recently and foreign secretary Harsh Shringla has discussed it with deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman.
The American side promised to “give the matter due consideration”, according to people familiar with these discussions.
There has also been a call from the US Chamber of Commerce, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in America, for the Biden administration to release millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses from its stockpile, which the US is unlikely to use because firstly, the jabs from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson will meet the country’s current and future needs; and secondly, the US is yet to authorise the use of the AZ vaccine.
Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley tech billionaire and investor, and Raja Krishnamurthi, an Indian-American lawmaker born in New Delhi, echoed that call on Saturday.
“I respectfully but strongly call on the Biden administration to release millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses to countries hardest-hit by the spread of Cobid-19, including India, Argentina, and potentially others,” said Krishnamurthi, a Democrat.
Khosla’s offer, meanwhile, was to fund oxygen supplies for Indian hospitals facing a critical shortage as they struggle to tackle a fast-escalating number of Covid-19 patients.
“I’m willing to fund hospitals in India that need funding to import bulk planeloads of oxygen or supplies into India to increase supply. Public hospitals/NGO’s also pls reach out,” he tweeted, tagging the Indian PMO’s official handle and several news publications.
Khosla, who now heads Khosla Ventures, an investment firm, is worth $2.9 billion, according to Forbes, which has put him at No. 174 on its list of billionaires. He is at No. 40 on the Midas list of investors.
“The AZ vaccine is unlikely to be ever approved in the US given current alternatives here,” Khosla tweeted about the AstraZeneca vaccine, adding that US President Joe Biden “should absolutely release all doses and future commitments for US supply since Moderna and Pfizer [vaccines] can supply US needs”.