At the first-ever Quad summit in early March, when the weather was balmy and the national corona curve was just beginning to misbehave, it was resolved to strengthen India’s ‘pharmacy of the world’ to manufacture up to a billion Covid vaccine doses for the Indo-Pacific by 2022-end. Amid all the euphoria that day about the four-nation grouping coming of age, Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India, urged the Biden administration to walk the talk by first lifting the US embargo on export of raw materials for producing vaccines. Weeks of ambivalence followed, by which time Poonawalla’s call reached its crescendo. Last week, the US state department was rather blunt in saying it will use all mechanisms to protect Americans first before opening the humanitarian door abroad. That included export embargoes and sitting on millions of doses, including those produced by AstraZeneca and J&J that it doesn’t intend to use but continue to be part of its massive stockpile. Its refusal to also ease patent norms of the jab falls into the same narrow framework.
One of the talking points of the Quad when China had similarly shut itself up after its first wave of the virus was to create alternative global supply chains for greater good so that manufacturing continues uninterrupted. But by holding back export of raw materials for vaccine production, the US is disrupting the very same global supply chain it committed the Quad to protect. With the priorities of the Biden administration getting clear, the false sense of comfort Indians had in Kamala Harris with roots in Tamil Nadu getting elected as US vice president is also unravelling. Late on Sunday night, the White House announced releasing of raw materials for producing Covishield, a decision it ought to have taken much earlier.
As for India, foreign minister S Jaishankar defended its earlier export of 60 million doses, arguing that it was largely to oil the global supply chains. A proud nation like India does not send SOS messages but responds to them. Yet, Jaishankar’s recent tweet urging the ‘world to support India, as India supports the world’ had an SOS ring to it. While other nations are reaching out, US selfishness is showing.