NEW DELHI: The US is looking at joint production of Johnson and Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine in India and ways to help manufacturers like the Serum Institute of India (SII) to boost production, Daniel B Smith, the Charge D’Affaires of the US embassy, said on Tuesday.
Smith also said that the efficacy of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine manufactured at a production facility in Baltimore is not yet clear and the Food and Drug Administration has not yet certified that the doses are available for anyone’s use or for export.
Last month, the White House said that the US plans to share 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine globally as soon as they become available, and India expected a significant chunk of the total stockpile.
At a media briefing, Smith said the US was concerned over the current course of the pandemic in India, not simply because of the humanitarian catastrophe but also due to the fact that it has global implications, noting that the Biden administration was standing with New Delhi to help deal with the crisis.
“I know that there are a number of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine (with the US). They were manufactured in the US. They were manufactured at a plant outside of Baltimore but there were problems with this plant. So far the Food and Drug Administration of the US has not certified that these vaccines are available for anyone’s use; for export or not,” he said.
“So I cannot say when that will happen or what will be done exactly as we go forward on this,” Smith said when asked whether the US was going to make available the AstraZeneca vaccine doses to India on an urgent basis.
He said the US was eager to supply the vaccine doses to the world but not before it is sure that they are safe and effective.
Smith, who recently served as acting secretary of state and acting deputy secretary of state, was appointed as Charge d’Affaires primarily to oversee and coordinate the US’ assistance to India in dealing with the pandemic.
To a question on joint production of coronavirus vaccines, Smith said the setting up of joint productions takes time and that the US was looking at how it can invest in boosting production.
“Our development finance cooperation is looking at how we can invest so that we can help produce the Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine here in India. And I know that there are some private sector production talks that are underway from pharmaceutical companies to pharmaceutical companies,” he said.
“We are determined to do all we can as a government to encourage licensing and encourage more production and if there is a need for capital, we will look at what we can provide and whether we can provide assistance,” he said.
Smith said India’s role in the production of COVID-19 vaccines at the global stage is critical.
“I think we are watching carefully the production levels at the SII and elsewhere. We’ve been in close touch with the SII to try to determine what raw materials we could provide, and assistance that we can provide to help boost production,” he said.
The US has been in touch with multiple vaccine manufacturers in the country.
“We want to do all we can to boost that production because I have heard from some of my colleagues in neighbouring countries, from the government of Bhutan, about their concern that India, of course, is having to divert a lot of its existing production to its own domestic needs, which is absolutely understandable,” he said.
“But in the same token, it means a lot of these countries are at risk that they will not get a second round of this vaccination. So we are looking to partner with other countries, we are looking at what we can do both to boost the production here in India but also to make up for whatever shortfall exists as a result of India’s own dire need for these vaccines,” he added.
As India reeled from a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, the US rapidly deployed six planeloads of life-saving supplies in support of the country’s fight against the pandemic.
The US government’s assistance to India is estimated at USD 100 million.
Smith said there was a need to work closely to address issues relating to the supply chain.
“A lot of the companies that manufacture key components and raw materials are located in the US, but many are not. So we are going to have to work together as a global community to address some of these supply chain issues and challenges that we face as we go forward,” he said.
“We are concerned obviously with the current course of the pandemic in India, not simply because of the humanitarian catastrophe but the fact that it has global implications,” the US Charge D’Affaires said.