India is set to receive “substantial numbers” of Covid vaccine doses through the US government’s latest global distribution strategy, though the final details are still being worked out, according to State Department Coordinator for Global Covid-19 Response Gayle E Smith.
The US will allocate doses to India based on factors such as the country’s vaccination plans, she said. Like with other countries, the Biden administration will make efforts to match the vaccines in its supply with India’s immunisation programme and cold-chain capabilities.
“We have done some notional planning, but the refinement of the actual dose numbers will be determined in consultation with the governments and their health experts, the state of their vaccine plans and delivery, and with Covax,” Smith said during a telephonic media briefing.
She was responding to a query from The Indian Express on how many of the 25 million doses allocated by the US in the first tranche for global supply would be given to India through Covax. “…we want to be careful about putting a number out there, yet, because we want to work all of those pieces (out) to make sure we’ve got the numbers right. But, I think they will be substantial numbers,” she said. The vaccines will come “from the US supply”, she said.
However, the fate of America’s unused stockpile of AstraZeneca jabs, which could ramp up the limited supply of Covishield in countries like India, depends on whether the US drug regulator clears this vaccine for donation.
“We do not at present have AstraZeneca doses to share…a $60 million AstraZeneca donation was announced by the President. We are waiting for the FDA to clear those to ensure full safety,” said Smith, adding that the government could “interfere” in the process.
“We are hopeful we will get a clearance soon. We are not in a position to say when that will come through because that’s the purview of the FDA,” she said.
“One of the things that we will be doing is trying to match vaccines, quite frankly, to vaccine programmes where we can. So, that’s part of the operational work that we’re about to undertake in partnership with countries and Covax,” Smith said.
One of the factors being considered in this regard is the ability of countries to handle cold chains and different vaccines. Smith said that part of the exercise is to make sure that the vaccines being deployed to these countries are those “that can actually be utilised”.
“So, that means taking into account things like cold chain capacity, depending on which vaccine…that is going to be part of the operational process as we deploy these vaccines,” she said.
USAID Covid-19 Task Force Executive Director Jeremy Konyndyk said his organisation is also helping in the endeavour to provide “a great deal of support to country readiness”. Of the $2 billion provided by the US to Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, for the Covax facility, $500 million will go towards facilitating country readiness, he said.
The Biden Administration Thursday announced its framework for sharing “at least 80 million” US vaccine doses globally by the end of June. In its plan for the first 25 million doses, it said that seven million doses would be allocated towards Asian countries and approximately six million targeted toward “regional priorities and partner recipients”. India has been specified in both categories.
These doses would be supplied through Covax, through which India has been eligible to receive specific supplies of free vaccines during the pandemic.