Explained: Why India needs Covid-19 vaccine ingredients from the US


The CEO of Serum Institute of India has urged President Joe Biden to lift the US embargo on export of vaccine raw materials. How important are these raw materials to vaccine manufacturers in India and other countries?


Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla has urged US President Joe Biden to lift the embargo on export of raw materials needed to ramp up production of Covishield and Covovax, the Covid-19 vaccines it is making in India. A look at the embargo, the materials blocked and how this may impact vaccines produced for India and the world.

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So, what is the embargo?

Exports of critical raw materials used in the production of some Covid-19 vaccines have been blocked as a result of Biden’s decision to invoke the US Defense Production Act earlier this year. The 1950 Act was originally passed to help ensure supplies and equipment during the Korean War. Today, its scope extends beyond America’s military to cover natural hazards, terrorist attacks and other national emergencies. The Act empowers its President to order domestic businesses and corporations to prioritise federal contracts in such events, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Other provisions include conferring powers to the President to incentivise the domestic industry to ramp up production and supply of “critical” materials and goods.

Early on in the Covid-19 pandemic, then President Donald Trump had invoked the Act for purposes like increasing production of ventilators and limiting exports of medical supplies. After taking office this year, Biden invoked the powers of the Act on January 21 to ensure the availability of “critical” materials, treatments and supplies needed to combat the pandemic, including the resources necessary to “effectively” produce and distribute vaccines “at scale”. A White House briefing over a week later revealed that his administration intended to use provisions of this Act to ensure supplies of products crucial to making and administering the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines. Last month, Biden once again announced that the Act was being invoked to ensure 24×7 manufacturing of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The government would also continue to use the Act to expedite “critical materials” in vaccine production, such as equipment, machinery and supplies.


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