US leaders push Biden to support India-made vax
In their appeal to Biden, the leaders pointed out the grave disparity that exists in access to vaccines.
Ten United States Congress representatives, led by members of the Hispanic Caucus, have written to President Joe Biden to champion two vaccines, Corbevax and Novavax – developed with American expertise and produced at scale in India – and deepen the administration’s partnership with like-minded countries to ensure their equitable distribution globally.
Led by three Democratic representatives from Texas – Veronica Escobar, Vicente Gonzalez and Sylvia R Garcia – the letter was signed by seven other representatives from California, Florida and Guam, including Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna.
In their appeal to Biden, the leaders pointed out the grave disparity that exists in access to vaccines. Although 61.3% of the world’s population had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and 10.16 billion doses had been administered globally, they said they were “critically concerned” that in low-income countries, only 10% of people had received at least one dose.
In this backdrop, they flagged two vaccines. “First, the scientists at the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and Baylor College of Medicine have developed the CORBEVAX vaccine, using technology that has been rigorously tested for decades,” they said in the letter.
The vaccine recently received authorisation in India, and Indian vaccine manufacturer Biological E was now producing 100 million doses every month and has sold 300 million doses to the Indian government, the representatives said.
“India is a shining example of the immense international potential CORBEVAX holds for low- and middle-income countries,” they said. “We continue to ask the federal government and G7 nations for assistance to co-develop this recombinant protein vaccine with new partners in low-resource countries and should CORBEVAX file domestically, we urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to consider reviewing the vaccine for emergency use authorization.”
They also urged the administration to back the use of Corbevax globally and said any delay would jeopardise millions of lives.
In a recent piece in the Houston Chronicle, India’s ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, had noted how US institutions and Indian vaccine companies had closely cooperated to develop reliable and affordable vaccines, and singled out Corbevax as cost-effective and patent-free.
The Congress representatives also flagged the importance of the vaccine developed by scientists at the Maryland-based pharmaceutical company Novavax, which has recently filed for approval in the US.
“The Novavax vaccine has shown an overall efficacy of 90% in clinical trials. Two Phase 3 trials with 30,000 participants were conducted in the US and Mexico. Additionally, a trial with almost 15,000 participants was conducted in the UK. To date, Novavax has received conditional approval authorisation from the European Union and Emergency Use Listing from the World Health Organization,” they said.
“It has also received authorisation in India, and its two-dose vaccine is already being distributed in Indonesia,” the leaders said. “This vaccine has also been given the Emergency Use Approval of the WHO in December 2021.”
The Novavax vaccine is being manufactured by Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker by volume, under the brand name Covovax.
Since Corbevax was not held back by “constraints of intellectual property”, and the vaccine developed by Novovax is already in production in India, with exports planned to the global Covax facility, the representatives in the Congress said, “We think the United States has the opportunity to champion these vaccines created by American expertise for countries where vaccine inequality is taking its toll on some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”
“To this end, the US can partner with like-minded countries to ensure an equitable distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine,” the Congress representatives said. “We request the White House consider the use of these vaccines in partnership countries across the globe, in a manner similar to the QUAD vaccine initiative and ensure an equitable distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine.”
Health has emerged as key area of convergence between India and the US in recent years, with the Covid-19 pandemic opening up the space for collaboration between the scientific and manufacturing advantages that both countries possess.
It has also helped India deepen its outreach to various constituencies in the US, especially among the progressive wing of Democrats concerned with vaccine equity, the Hispanic and Black caucuses that see the benefit of enhanced partnership for marginalised population segments globally, as well as local political representatives from states at the forefront of vaccine development.
In January, in a letter to the Indian ambassador, Joyce Beatty, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, expressed “appreciation” of India’s global efforts to address the pandemic. “I laud your government’s efforts, as it has selflessly shared over 8 million vaccines with at least thirty-eight countries,” Beatty had said.
Beatty specifically mentioned support to African and Caribbean countries, referred to the Quad initiative to develop and manufacture vaccines for the Indo-Pacific region, mentioned the expansion of Biological E’s vaccine manufacturing facility in Hyderabad, acknowledged the US government’s financial arrangement formalising $50 million to expand the company’s capacity, and emphasised the role Corbevax could play in mitigating global vaccine inequity.
The Quad vaccine initiative involves a third dose, which has been developed by Johnson & Johnson, and is also being produced by Biological E. The initiative includes funding for its production as well as distribution to other countries that are yet to be identified.
In his piece in the Houston Chronicle, ambassador Sandhu said India’s experiences can offer three lessons in the global fight against the pandemic.
The first was with regard to the administrative structures that India had put in place, with the aid of technology, to run its vaccination programme. The second was India’s ability to delivery vaccines globally.
“India’s production capabilities, experience and human resources can make a difference in delivering affordable vaccines to the rest of the world’s citizens, nearly 40 percent of whom are yet to receive even a single dose,” Sandhu said.
The third was a recognition of global partnerships, including the fact that Indian vaccines roll out had been aided by raw materials from the US and the Quad Vaccine initiative, which envisages the production of a billion doses and making it available to Indo-Pacific countries and beyond by 2022.