US COVID Aid to India: What Lessons Can We Learn From This Crisis?

Health workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) carry bodies of people who were suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), outside the Guru Teg Bahadur hospital, in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

The issue of US medical assistance to India came to a dramatic end with everyone from President Biden’s downward issuing statements pledging immediate help to India which has been more than overwhelmed by a severe second COVID-19 wave. The US President and Vice President Kamala Harris’s responses came through tweets on Sunday, 25 April, promising additional support and supplies to deal with India’s national emergency.

There should be no doubt that this was the handiwork of President Biden himself and a decision taken on national security grounds, based on US interests in maintaining close ties with India.

The US policy till last Thursday, enunciated by the State Department spokesman Ned Price, was that no help could be expected at this time because “The United States first and foremost is engaged in an ambitious and effective… effort to vaccinate the American people.” American officials had at the time said that the US would “give the matter (of assistance to India) due consideration”.

Indeed, Price had gone on to say that it was not only in the interest of the American people that this happen but also in the interest of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated.
The reason why the President came into the picture was that he is needed to waive the US Defense Production Act (DPA) which he himself invoked in February 2021. This prioritizes American supplies of raw materials for vaccines for US buyers. Under the Defense Priorities and Allocation System Program of the DPA, there are restrictions on 35 categories of items that are needed by Indian manufacturers of the COVID-19 vaccine. These include reagents, plastic tubing material, nano-filters, bioreactor bags that were identified by the Serum Institute of India (SII) for use in making the Covishield and Novavax vaccines.

The backlash in India and among Indian-American politicians in the US forced the US to reconsider. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan took up the task of untangling the issue that had been roiling Indo-US relations for the past month or so.


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