Houston Chronicle

U.S. asked to lift rules on exports to boost vaccines

- By Aniruddha Ghosal

NEW DELHI — The chief executive of Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest maker of vaccines and a critical supplier of the U.N.-backed COVAX facility, asked President Joe Biden on Twitter to lift the U.S. embargo on exporting raw materials needed to make the jabs.

Vaccine makers and experts in India have been concerned that the use of the Defense Production Act by the U.S. to boost it own vaccine production was resulting in exports of critical raw materials being stopped. This was hobbling vaccine production in other parts of the world.

Stephane Bancel, chief executive officer for Moderna, said Tuesday in an online event that export embargoes were also preventing American vaccine makers from exporting shots globally and resulting in shortages.

“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,” wrote Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India.

He had earlier told the Associated Press that pivoting away from suppliers in the U.S. could result in a delay of up to six months for the production of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Novavax. Serum Institute and Novavax have inked a deal to supply 1.1 billion doses of the vaccine to COVAX to equitably distribute it across the globe.

Separately, 10 Democratic senators are urging Biden to back India and South Africa’s appeal to the World Trade Organizati­on to temporaril­y relax intellectu­al property rules so coronaviru­s vaccines can be manufactur­ed by nations that are struggling to inoculate their population­s.

The lawmakers, in a letter delivered to the White House on Thursday evening, wrote that Biden should “prioritize people over pharmaceut­ical company profits” and support the temporary waiver of the rules. A waiver, which is supported by more than 100 nations, could pave the way for generic or other manufactur­ers to make more vaccines.

India, in particular, is facing tremendous need. Serum Institute of India paused exports to COVAX after a devastatin­g surge of infections in India resulted in increased domestic demand.

Over 200,000 new infections were detected in the past 24 hours, and major cities such as Mumbai and New Delhi are under virus restrictio­ns. Hospitals are overwhelme­d, and authoritie­s are scrambling to try to vaccinate enough people to slow down the spread. But in doing so, India relies heavily on AstraZenec­a shots made by Serum Institute of India.

Poonawalla had said the unavailabi­lity of the raw materials, such as the specific medium needed to grow microorgan­isms, would prevent Serum Institute from scaling up the production of the vaccine developed by Novavax.

The company had been planning to make up to 40 million shots of the vaccine monthly.

Ramping up the production of this shot could also help India. Novavax has applied for authorizat­ion of the vaccine to regulators in Europe, the U.S. and the World Health Organizati­on. If the vaccine is approved, India would be able to use it under new regulation­s that make it easier to greenlight vaccines that have received the nod by the U.K., the U.S., Europe, Japan or WHO.

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