Most American health experts believe the AstraZeneca vaccine won’t be deployed and they are pleading with Biden to release the stock to India and other countries

by Seema Sirohi

This is a test. But where is America? Indians are dying in the ferocious second wave of the pandemic. Hospitals and crematoriums can’t keep up. The living are gasping for oxygen and the government for ideas.

Shockingly, there is no response from the US — the stronger, richer member of the “strategic partnership” (I can’t recall the longer, hyperbolic title right now). All we have heard so far are words, sometimes vapid and sometimes callous, or a robotic recounting of past generosity, some of which actually came from Donald Trump.

But no offer of help has come so far from President Joe Biden on what’s desperately needed right now – vaccines and other medical supplies.

It doesn’t feel like “America is back”. Trump, for all his ostentatious flaws, sent 200 ventilators to India as a gesture of friendship when the US was in the throes of the pandemic. And India relaxed controls over hydroxychloroquine because Trump thought it was the magic potion. It seemed people were talking and people were listening.

But Biden’s White House seems unable to comprehend the politics of the moment. Quad and climate summits matter little and sound like distant thunder in the face of India’s desperate public health crisis — and no helping hand from its newest best friend. Yet.

The US government currently sits on a stockpile of more than 100 million vaccine doses and counting. Of these, around 40 million are AstraZeneca, which are unlikely to be used anytime soon because the FDA hasn’t granted approval.

Most American health experts believe the AstraZeneca vaccine won’t be deployed and they are pleading with Biden to release the stock to India and other countries.

Export Or Donate Spare Vaccines, Say Experts

Members of the US Congress have also asked Biden to open the storeroom. But he has refused to export or donate spare vaccines. “We don’t have enough to be confident to send it abroad now. But I expect we’re going to be able to do that,” was his answer this week. Is he afraid the Republicans will attack him? I wager they won’t if there’s any truth to “bipartisan” support for India. It’s not like Biden is sending vaccines to Russia.

If the European Union and, most importantly India, which donated or sold 66 million vaccine doses to 95 countries, can share, why can’t the US? Now India herself is in crisis, admittedly of her own making. The BJP government’s horrendous missteps and determined disregard for basic precautions will be judged, even by the polarised masses.

But right now, Indians are suffering and the Biden administration’s non-response is affecting people, not politicians. Christopher Clary, a professor and South Asia expert, was alarmed enough to portend the arrival of another “USS Enterprise moment” with India. I am not there yet, except to note that if sending the 7th Fleet was an intervention to scare India, the lack of one to salve and save lives is more appalling. This USS Enterprise train of thought is already racing through many Indian minds. It can become a runaway train in the age of social media, especially when the Russians have already fired the first salvo.

Russia’s Helping Hand

Vladimir Putin offered to send oxygen and a regular supply of Remdesivir injections. How soon before the Hindutva-forged angry-wallahs turn on America and the narrative shifts from Uncle Sam to Uncle Putin being the real friend in need?

Political officers in the State Department will remember the 1998 nuclear tests and Bill Clinton’s wrath when nothing seemed too petty to block or deny. Public anger in India was intense.