A group of powerful US Democratic lawmakers have expressed frustration over the delay in the implementation of the Biden administration's decision to release the country's supply of unusable AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to India and other countries that need them and demanded their speedy delivery.
"Time is of the essence. Without assistance from the United States, new vaccine-resistant mutations could arise across the globe, threatening international public health and the United States' national security and economic prosperity," four Democrats, who head powerful congressional committees, said in a joint letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Health Secretary Xavier Becerra.
The signatories are Carolyn Maloney, chairperson of one of the most powerful of House committees, the oversight committee; James Clyburn, chair of the House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis; Raja Krishnamoorthi, the Indian American chair of the House subcommittee on economic and consumer policy; and Stephen Lynch, chair of the House subcommittee on national security.
Clyburn, it should be noted, had rescued Biden's faltering presidential run in the primaries by rallying African American Democrats to vote for Biden in South Carolina. Biden's massive win in the state forced his rivals to pull out in his favour and cleared the decks for his nomination. Clyburn is Number 3 in the House Democratic caucus as the whip.
Lawmakers have also pressed the Biden administration to reverse President Donald Trump's opposition to India and South Africa's proposal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive intellectual property rights to help developing counties get the same access to vaccines, therapeutics and technologies as the high-income countries.
In a letter sent last Friday, which probably got overshadowed by everything else happening at the same time, the four legislators had seemed worried about inordinate delays in the shipping of these supplies by the administration's plans to obtain the approval of the country's foods and drug regulator.
They had cited White House press secretary Jen Psaki's as the chief reason for their worry. "Before any AstraZeneca doses are shipped from the United States, the FDA will confirm any such doses meet its expectations for product quality," Psaki hd said on April 26. "This is being done in the context of the FDA's ongoing review of all doses made at the plant where these AstraZeneca doses were produced."
AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, which is made and retitled in India as Covishield, is not approved for use in the United States and the company has not even applied for it. It has also faced questions about the use of old data in support of its efficacy claims.
Even if AstraZeneca were to apply and get the approval for is vaccines, the United States won't need them. It has enough — either physically in possession or secured through pre-orders — of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna's two-shot vaccines and Johnson & Johnson's single-shot vaccines to inoculate all Americans.
More than 52% of eligible Americans — 147.5 million, which is 44% of the population — have received at least one dose of a vaccine. India has inoculated 154.6, millions of is people which is an extremely small percentage of its population, and the availability of vaccines has been strained in recent days as people rush to get themselves inoculated, panicked by the ongoing surge of Covid-19 cases.
The United States has contracted for $ 60 millions of AstraZeneca vaccines, but did not have any in its stockpile April end. It is expected to receive 10 million doses of them shortly.
It doesn't need any of them, India does.
The four lawmakers called for a briefing from the Biden administration on the reasons for the delay stressing their "our oversight of this matter".
They said they want to know about the process by which the administration will select countries that will get these AstraZeneca vaccines, the time taken to ship consignments, legal and contractual barriers, and whether the United States will have enough vaccines left from other sources to meet its domestic needs.