Biden Pushes India’s Modi To Lift Vaccine Export Ban

A scoop reported by Axios indicates that the administration of President Joe Biden is pressuring the administration of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to restart vaccine exports in exchange for a higher-ranking role at a crucial, high-stakes upcoming global summit addressing the current status of the global COVID-19 pandemic in New York City.

India, the world’s largest liberal democracy, is also the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines. Modi halted exports of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines — possibly the cheapest on the market — because the virus hit his population severely early this year.

The exports stopped in March, but as the World Health Organization calls for the wealthiest countries to hold off on the distribution of booster shots, the need for renewal is needed.

At least, that is the logic behind the US diplomatic push to renew Modi’s vaccine supply chain to the world. Reportedly, the focused push is intended to open up vaccine supply to the developing countries in desperate need of vaccine doses for their populations.

Anonymous sources familiar with this diplomatic dance tell Axios that it “is in America’s vital interest because the uncontrolled spread of the virus inevitably produce more dangerous variants.” However, a White House official refuted the claims saying that the discussion of vaccine exports has taken place but denied that the talks aren’t tied to the Indian head of government’s participation in the upcoming summit in New York.

“We have regularly been communicating with [the] government of India in bilateral and multilateral channels to discuss vaccine supply and inquire about a timeline for exports, and these conversations are not tied to a specific summit or engagement,” said the US official via Axios. Ironically, the United States banned the exports of its vaccines for months until its strategic stockpile was replenished to address the harms of variants like Delta.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), has called on wealthy countries to hold off on administering booster shot doses.

“There are countries with less than 2% vaccination coverage, most of them in Africa, who are not even getting their first and second dose,” Dr. Tedros said on September 14, 2021. “And starting with boosters, especially giving it to healthy populations, is really not right.”

Dr. Tedros, as previously reported across international news media, hails from Eritrea in East Africa. The latest data from the COVAX consortium, administered by the WHO, the GAVI Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, indicates that countries like Eritrea have yet to roll out any vaccination doses to their populations. Other countries that have little data or no indication of a vaccine drive in North Korea.

Overall, vaccination administration data is less than 2% in several developing countries across Africa, Latin America, and Central and Western Asia. As it relates to the current geopolitical artistry between the US and India, the superpower has fully vaccinated 55% of the population, with the US closest ally in Asia (a population of 1.366 billion people) has administered 753 million vaccine doses with 181 million people being fully vaccinated. That’s only 13.3% of India’s total population, where the US total population (as mentioned) is 55% fully vaccinated. Considering the numbers, the Biden administration’s lobbying for Modi to release their vaccine export freeze is asymmetrical and further places India at a comparative disadvantage to the United States, Canada, and other wealthy countries.

The complexities of the distribution of vaccine doses have placed geopolitics as the deciding factor of the best means of action over the data- and evidence-based approach provided to infectious disease epidemiology and the macroeconomics of health policy.

World Health Organization officials told Reuters that it remains in “constant dialogue” with Indian health officials regarding the resumption of global vaccine exports through avenues like the COVAX vaccine platform and the intergovernmental nature of the consortium.

“We have been assured that supply will restart this year,” Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO official, said during a morning press briefing earlier this week. “We are hoping we can get an assurance it can start even faster than later this year and in the coming weeks.”

Suppose the United States can further pressure Modi’s government to lift its freeze on vaccine exports. In that case, the same commitments the Biden administration is holding India should additionally apply to that of the US as it further contemplates the effectiveness (and prudence) of mandating booster shots right after President Biden issued a nationwide vaccination mandate for all federal government workers, contractors, and those employed by private companies that employ more than 100 workers.

The US vaccine mandate is projected to impact 100 million American workers, including the federal civilian workforce.