The US will share up to 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines with India and other nations, according to Biden administration officials.
The move follows a call on Monday morning between President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Our two nations have suffered greatly,” said a senior Biden administration official during an afternoon background briefing on the decision to send oxygen, drugs, and supplies to manufacture vaccines to India. “We remember India’s generosity toward us early in the pandemic.”
The announcement comes as about 1 in every 3 cases of COVID-19 recorded daily is now in India. In April, India’s outbreak has seen record numbers of cases overwhelming hospitals and oxygen supplies. About 2,500 deaths a day are now reported there, widely seen as an undercount that is 5 to 10 times higher.
National security officials in the Biden administration said India’s dire surge in cases and the continuing pandemic elsewhere justified releasing the doses from the US’s supplies of the shots. Supplies of other vaccines are projected to make shots available to every US adult by June.
An AstraZeneca vaccine is authorized in India but still awaiting an FDA go-ahead in the US. The company has not even formally applied for this authorization. A safety review of those shots will be performed by the FDA before they are shipped. Ten million doses are currently available, and another 50 million are in production. The US previously loaned 4 million AstraZeneca shots to Mexico and Canada.
“In short, this is good news but long overdue,” said Lawrence Gostin of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. “What we are seeing, however, is two classes of vaccines — one for the developed world and one for the poor. AstraZeneca hasn’t been authorized in the US, so it can be donated. But the US is hoarding highly effective vaccines like mRNA vaccines. I hope the US will begin to donate doses of all its vaccine stock. It is the ethically right thing to do, but also it is in our interests.”
Administration officials said the US will consider sharing more vaccines as the country’s supplies increase and the population is immunized.
Over the weekend, the European Union activated its medical assistance program to offer India oxygen and medical supplies, while Singapore and Saudi Arabia have also sent oxygen. Russia has also said it will fly medical assistance to India. The White House announced on Sunday that it was sending ventilators and protective equipment to India.
Peter Aldhous contributed reporting to this story.