Vaccine Logjam: US’s de facto curbs on key vaccine raw materials put global vaccination efforts at risk of serious delays

By: |
April 24, 2021 5:00 AM

It is true that it is not just the US that supplies critical raw materials for vaccine production, but its actions do set the template for other supplier-nations to follow. The fallout of this is delayed vaccination and reduced vaccination coverage, leading to continued spread of the disease.

But, late last week, Serum Institute’s Adar Poonwalla was requesting US president Joe Biden to “lift the embargo” on raw materials that are crucial to vaccine production.But, late last week, Serum Institute’s Adar Poonwalla was requesting US president Joe Biden to “lift the embargo” on raw materials that are crucial to vaccine production.

In the most ideal conditions, the world has the capacity to produce 14 billion Covid 19 vaccine doses this year. But, the rider is, of course, “in the most ideal conditions”. To be sure, a billion vaccine doses have already been made, and The Economist cites data from Airfinity to say that the next billion could be ready by May 27. But, late last week, Serum Institute’s Adar Poonwalla was requesting US president Joe Biden to “lift the embargo” on raw materials that are crucial to vaccine production. The US has invoked a 1950s law—during the Trump administration—which, in effect, curbs exports of various materials involved in vaccine production, from tubing, filters and even paper, though it doesn’t place an outright ban. And curbs, or any apprehension regarding these, sparks stockpiling, which not just leads to a man-made shortage, but also delays vaccine production by many weeks.

It is true that it is not just the US that supplies critical raw materials for vaccine production, but its actions do set the template for other supplier-nations to follow. The fallout of this is delayed vaccination and reduced vaccination coverage, leading to continued spread of the disease.

And, given resumption of production takes time, even lifting of curbs don’t translate into immediate momentum. Mutiple pressure groups and advocacy organisations are voicing the need for the US, and other nations, not to interfere with vaccine-critical supply chains. Unless the US acts, global vaccination will continue to be in a limbo. Raw material shortage will hobble India’s vaccination efforts, and as it struggles to bridge the gaps, it will mean that vaccines that were to be shipped from India to other nations will get delayed—the EU is already contemplating legal action against AstraZeneca that had contracted Serum Institute for supply of its vaccine. Meanwhile, Joe Biden has reportedly pleaded that he has to “protect Americans”. The question is: Will it be at the cost of the rest of the world?

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