Biden administration has invoked the Defense Production Act to curb the export of raw materials critical for vaccine production.(Bloomberg)
Biden administration has invoked the Defense Production Act to curb the export of raw materials critical for vaccine production.(Bloomberg)

With ‘folded hands’, Poonawalla urges Biden to lift export ban from these raw materials

  • SII chief executive Adar Poonawalla said that vaccine production can be ramped up if the Biden administration lifts the curb on the export of critical raw materials.
By hindustantimes.com | Edited by Kunal Gaurav
PUBLISHED ON APR 16, 2021 06:22 PM IST

Serum Institute of India (SII) chief executive Adar Poonawalla on Friday urged US President Joe Biden to lift the export ban on critical raw materials required for the production of vaccines against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). The United States in February invoked the Defense Production Act, which gives the power to control the distribution of products, to curb the export of raw materials critical for vaccine production.

“Respected @POTUS, if we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the U.S., I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S. so that vaccine production can ramp up. Your administration has the details,” tweeted Poonawalla, adding a ‘folded hands’ emoji at the end.


Why did the US block the export of critical raw materials?

In November last year, American pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. cut short its vaccine production target by half, citing a shortage of raw material. Pfizer, which is producing mRNA Covid-19 vaccines, had earlier planned to roll out over 1.2 billion shots in 2021 but reduced the target by half due to raw material shortage in the United States and Europe.

The revised target was a major hindrance to Biden’s poll promise of administering 100 million vaccination shots in his first 100 days in office. The US government has purchased 600 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from both Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., which will be delivered in regular increments through the end of July 2021. In order to accelerate vaccine production, the Biden administration decided to invoke the Defense Production Act for the short term.

"We'll continue to use the Defense Production Act to expedite critical materials in vaccine production, such as equipment, machinery, and supplies," Biden had said.

What are those critical raw materials?

The long list of raw materials that SII imports from the US include filters, bags, and adjuvant. Large, sterile plastic bags are used to grow vaccine cells. An adjuvant is a substance that is used to increase the efficacy of a vaccine and helps the immune system generate antibodies.

While vaccine manufacturers can establish a fresh supply chain for raw materials like filters and sterile plastic bags, the disruption in the supply of adjuvant could hamper production for a longer period. Authorised vaccines are made with a certain adjuvant and any change in the vendor of that adjuvant would lead to fresh clinical trials and approvals.

“Developing new suppliers in the eleventh hour will take a bit of time. We will do that. We will not be dependent on the US after six months. The problem is we need it now,” Adar Poonawalla was quoted by India Today as saying.

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