WASHINGTON ― President Joe Biden’s administration is ramping up assistance to India to help it fight what in recent weeks has become the world’s worst coronavirus flare-up, but not, as of yet, with finished, ready-to-use vaccines, officials said Monday.
Personal protective gear, antiviral medication, rapid testing kits, supplies of oxygen and oxygen production equipment are on the way to the world’s second-most populous country through agencies including the Department of Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“DoD is also exploring providing field oxygen generation systems, which we have used in our field medical hospitals,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “Each unit can provide oxygen for up to 50 to 100 beds.”
The White House also announced that Biden had spoken with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday and that the discussion had included an agreement that the U.S. would send India raw material needed to make the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“We’re in ongoing discussions about what their needs are and how we can meet them,” Psaki said.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, while used in many countries abroad, is not yet authorized for use in the United States. However, after the Food and Drug Administration has declared it to be safe, the U.S. will have about 10 million doses available for shipment in the coming weeks and 50 million more available by the end of June, a senior administration official said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Those doses will be sent to other nations, although exactly where ― and how many might go to India and how quickly ― has not been decided, officials said.
Modi was among the world’s leaders who, like former U.S. President Donald Trump, downplayed the lethality of the coronavirus and the severity of the threat it posed. The nation of 1.3 billion people has been overwhelmed with a sudden surge of cases, more than 300,000 a day for the past week, at least in part because of the more easily transmissible B.1.1.7 and B.1.617 variants of the virus.
India has been reporting more than 2,000 deaths per day as hospitals, swamped with patients, are struggling with basic supplies such as masks and gowns as well as oxygen. Health experts, though, believe the death toll is far higher as communities hold mass cremations.
The Biden administration has been criticized for not helping poor countries obtain vaccines faster, particularly given the dangers posed by new variants arising in areas awash with the disease that could affect already-vaccinated people the world over.
Senior administration officials said Monday that they had moved as quickly as they could, given the damage the Trump administration had done to international relationships in the name its “America first” doctrine.
“As the president has said, we know that this pandemic will not end unless we help the world end it,” one official said on condition of anonymity, pointing to efforts that included $4 billion the U.S. has committed to the COVAX vaccine distribution program and rejoining the World Health Organization. “We’ve also spent a lot of time rebuilding American leadership in global health security.”
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