After the White House invoked the wartime powers of the Defense Production Act to preserve vaccine raw materials for its own companies, they did not respond to questions on the request by the Serum Institute of India (SII) to lift export ban on certain raw materials needed for ramping up production of Covid-19 vaccine.
The question in this regard was asked twice on Monday -- once during the morning White House briefing on Covid-19 and later during the daily news conference by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, PTI reported.
India is currently facing the world's worst surge in coronavirus infections, which has led to a clamour for vaccines. India, with the world's biggest vaccine-making capacity, has also stopped major vaccine exports to meet local demand.
"The Serum Institute of India has been saying that the Biden administration is blocking exports of raw materials that it needs to make Covid vaccines, and the Serum Institute has also urged President Biden to lift that embargo. So I wanted to ask which raw materials are at issue here? And do you have any plans to address Serum's concerns?" asked a reporter during the morning news conference by the White House Covid-19 Response Team.
Both Dr Anthony Fauci, Director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Dr Andy Slacitt, the White House Covid-19 response senior advisor said they had no answer.
"I don't... I'm sorry. We could get back to you on that, I''m sure. But I don't have anything for you right now," Fauci said.
"Let us get back to you. Suffice to say we are taking very seriously the global threat from the pandemic. We've been a leader in the funding of Covax, have done several bilateral transfers of vaccines, and are looking very hard and taking very seriously all of these complex issues, we''ll get back to you on the specifics," Slavitt said.
A similar question was asked during the daily news conference.
"India is facing a critical shortage of raw materials necessary to make vaccines. And officials there are urging the US to lift embargo on exporting those raw materials. My colleagues in India are reporting today that the Biden administration recently told India that its request was being considered and would be acted 'at the earliest''. Could you provide some more details on that and maybe some timeline?" a reporter asked Psaki.
In response Psaki referred to a recent speech at WTO by US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.
"The significant inequities we are seeing in access to vaccines between developed and developing countries are completely unacceptable. Extraordinary times require extraordinary leadership, communication, and creativity," she said.
"We, of course are working with WTO members on a global response to Covid. That includes a number of components, whether it''s USD 4 billion commitment to Covax, or discussions about how we can aid and assist countries that need help the most."
"But our focus is on determining the most effective steps that will help get the pandemic under control. We don't have anything further in terms of next steps or a timeline, but we are considering a range of options," Psaki said
The potential movement on raw materials comes days after the SII chief executive tweeted directly to Biden to end the supply curb.
"US needs to lift restrictions for APIs without which there cannot be vaccines for all," said one of the sources, referring to active pharmaceutical ingredients.
SII is licensed to make the AstraZeneca shot as well another developed by US company Novavax.