Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on COVID-19 in India

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Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on COVID-19 in India

Via Teleconference 2:47 P.M. EDT SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  All right.  Good afternoon, everybody.  Thank you for joining us

Via Teleconference

2:47 P.M. EDT
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  All right.  Good afternoon, everybody.  Thank you for joining us.  Sorry for the delay.  We will be discussing the COVID-19 situation in India today. 
 
A reminder too that today’s briefing will be on background, attributable to “senior administration officials” and embargoed until the conclusion of the call. 
 
With that being said, I’m going to kick it to [senior administration official].  We’ll go through a few other people, and then we will have time for your questions.
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us.  As Americans, we have felt the devastating impact of rising COVID cases in India — this recent surge — among our family and friends.  And, you know, the U.S. and India have had the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world.  Our two nations have suffered greatly. 
 
And we remember India’s generosity to the United States in the early days of the pandemic, when India offered medications to us as our hospitals were strained.  And the U.S. and India have been partners on global health for seven decades.  We’ve had a very strong health partnership.  Over the years, we’ve battled polio, smallpox, HIV, and now we’re fighting the COVID-19 pandemic together, including through the longstanding collaboration between our respective — between our Center for Disease Control and India’s Epidemic Intelligence Services. 
 
This weekend, we had several high-level calls with Indian officials about the best ways that we can support India’s fight against this current surge of COVID-19.  National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval yesterday.  Secretary Blinken spoke with his Indian counterpart late last week.  And we’ve now shared the range of support that we are prepared to immediately start deploying.
 
As you all have seen, earlier today, President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Modi.  It was a warm and positive call.  The leaders affirmed the strong ties between our nations, both of which have suffered so much under this pandemic. 
 
We are in close touch with Indian officials at all levels.  And we’re also closely coordinating with our allies, friends, and Quad partners about how we can collectively support India in its hour of need. 
 
Before we go through the specifics, I’d like to turn it over to [senior administration official].
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  So, hello everybody.
 
So, before we get into some details on the specifics to the assistance to India, I want to take an opportunity, just a second here, to discuss a bit of the confusion — clear up some of the confusion around the Defense Production Act. 
 
So, basically, the world has embarked on an unprecedented level of manufacturing around vaccines — something in the order of 14 billion doses more than the 4 billion a year that we typically manufacture around the world. And the — while we’ve made great progress across the world, making vaccines requires a great deal of specialized materials and there’s just not enough to go around.
 
So, to the manufacture of the vaccine: Here in the U.S., we used the Defense Production Act.  The DPA priority ratings requires U.S. companies to prioritize U.S. government contracts ahead of other contracts that they have in place for U.S. manufacturing.  But what it does not mean is an export ban or a de facto ban or an embargo or any restrictions on sales to any other outside clients or customers anywhere.  Companies are able to export however they need. 
 
And, in fact, all of the companies that we work with are also exporting materials all across the world.  We are just one client of many in the consumption of raw materials from these companies.  The DPA isn’t the cause of any shortages as well — doesn’t cause shortages.  There’s just more global manufacturing happening everywhere in the world than suppliers can currently support. 
 
So my job — our job here — the supply team — is understanding the complexities of the global supply chain.  So I monitor this every day.  There’s changes and challenges, of course, but we respond as necessary.  And our response will always work to find ways to address these challenges. 
 
So, then, to discuss momentarily our assistance in vaccine manufacturing: So, as requested by the Government of India, we will be providing raw materials for the production of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine at the Serum Institute of India. 
 
So, given that there is not enough of the supply for the entire global manufacturing effort and in light of the current crisis, we, the United States, are diverting our order to India. 
 
So, I want to be to be clear here that we did not intervene with the manufacturer to make them fill the Serum Institute’s order; we don’t have that power.  Instead, what we are doing is diverting our own order of our own supplies to the Serum Institute for their manufacturing. 
 
Because of the scope of the current situation in India and the stake of our — state of our own production here at home, this was the most effective and rapid step we could take at this stage to provide support at scale. 
 
So, USAID and CDC will also provide technical assistance and materials, and strengthening vaccine communications related to confidence in vaccination, and support (inaudible) of vaccine readiness at the national and subnational levels.
 
And many of you have asked in recent days why we’re not just loaning or giving AstraZeneca doses to India like we did with Canada and Mexico, and we will defer to that a little later here in the conversation. 
 
And I’ll turn that — with that, I’ll turn it over to [senior administration official] to go through some of the other measures of assistance. 
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks, [senior administration official].  Thanks, everybody.  And obviously, the inputs that [senior administration official] spoke about are hugely important.  But India is facing a huge surge right now, and there’s a lot of support that we’re currently exploring and what we’re providing that will be helpful on the ground immediately.
 
At India’s request, we’re exploring options to provide oxygen and related supplies.  These are resources that India has specifically requested and are very high on their priority list. 
 
I’ll start first with oxygen.  There’s a number of different buckets — oxygen transport, oxygen generation, oxygen cylinders, the oxygen supply chain.  And, in particular, our Department of Defense and our U.S. Agency for International Development are pursuing options to provide oxygen generation systems.  We might be in a position to reroute shipments.  We’ll have detail — many more details on exactly where these will come from and where they will go as soon as possible.  But we do have the Department of State working to finalize options for contracting oxygen, including cylinders.
 
We also have the Department of Defense working on oxygen generation systems, including larger-scale as well as smaller-scale units.  And USAI- — and we also have the Department of Defense exploring the provision of field oxygen generation systems, which we’ve used in our own field hospitals to provide oxygen for 50 to 100 beds.  And I’ll stress that some of these elements are in the exploration phase; they’re shorter- and longer-term options that we’re providing in the immediate, and then we plan to continue to be engaged over the longer term.
 
DOD is also, as I said — we also are exploring options to provide oxygen concentrations and ventilators.  And we’re in technical discussions with India to ensure that the equipment we supply will connect to devices in India.  And we’re also going to be providing training associated with all of these requests as needed.
 
The U.S. government is also preparing to help with transportation of these and other supplies to India.
 
The next category of assistance that we’re prepared to provide are therapeutics, personal protective equipment, and tests.  The United States has identified U.S. commercial suppliers of remdesivir that are immediately available to help relieve the suffering of COVID-19 patients in India.  And we’ve identified rapid diagnostic testing supplies, as well as personal protective equipment, that will be available to be transferred to India immediately.
 
Finally, we mentioned the antiviral remdesivir and rapid diagnostic tests, but also facilitating India’s own access to those supplies through U.S.-based sources. 
 
The fundamental category, last but not least, is public health assistance.  And as [senior administration official] already mentioned, we have the only two CDCs in the world — that includes, specifically, Epidemic Intelligence Services, named the “EIS” services — and we have a long, long history of working together closely and helping one another. 
 
The U.S. CDC, working with USAID, will urgently deploy a strike team to India which will include public health experts to work in close collaboration with our embassy, with India’s health ministries and experts, and with India’s Epidemic Intelligence Service staff. 
 
That strike team will work hand in hand with India’s experts in a number of areas, including laboratory services; surveillance and epidemiology; bioinformatics for sequencing and modeling of the disease; infection, prevention, and control; vaccines rollout; and risk communication.
 
The strike team will also include CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service officers and laboratory leadership service officers who will work directly with India’s experts in peer engagements for the model for areas to allow support at the state and the local level.  Support from the strike team could also support India being able to immediately add residents to an epidemiology class sizes to add new training experts in the Field of Epidemiology Training Program frontline cohort, where we’re already working together. 
 
USAID will also work in the public health arena with CDC to support and fast track the mobilization of emergency resources available through the Global Fund.  India’s base allocation through the Global Funds COVID-19 resource mobilization round is $75 million.
 
Finally, in the broader healthcare service support and supply chain and manufacturing assistance, we’re offering assistance to also help with the supply chain of oxygen — which is part of the sustainability that I mentioned — and related healthcare supplies.  And that’ll include building public-private partnerships (inaudible) for smaller-scale production plants for the compressors that I mentioned.
 
I’m going to it over to [senior administration official] to talk a little bit more about vaccines.
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Hi, everyone.  I’m [senior administration official].  I thought we might just — you may have seen the news out earlier today on AstraZeneca.  So, I thought, since we had you all here, we’d give you a quick topline from that. 
 
So, first, as you know, the United States has three safe and effective vaccines for use in this country: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.  A fourth vaccine, AstraZeneca, has not been authorized for use in the United States.  And, in fact, AstraZeneca has not yet even applied for the EUA in the United States yet, but it is being used — this vaccine is being used in many countries around the world.
 
As part of the U.S. strategy to be ready for a range of scenarios, the United States has produced some AstraZeneca doses already.  Given the strong portfolio of vaccines that the United States already has, as I mentioned, and given that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not approved for use in the U.S., we do not need to use the AstraZeneca vaccine here during the next few months. 
 
Therefore, the United States is looking at options to share the AZ doses with other countries as they become available.  Importantly, though, before any AstraZeneca doses can be shipped from the United States, the FDA will confirm that any such doses meet its expectations for product quality.  This is being done in the context of FDA’s ongoing review of all doses made at the plant where these AstraZeneca doses were produced. 
 
And because of that process, at this moment, contrary to what some have heard — may have heard, there are no AstraZeneca doses that have completed and cleared that process to be sent to other countries. 
 
But here is where we do have doses in production process and just wanted to share those with you: We expect that there are approximately 10 million doses that could be released if and when FDA gets — gives its concurrence, which could happen in the coming weeks.  Further, there’s an estimated additional 50 million doses that are in various stages of production, and these could be completed in stages across May and June. 
 
So, in sum, we expect to have about 60 million doses of AstraZeneca that the U.S. could share with other countries as they become available over the next two months.  As these doses become available, the plans will be finalized as to where they would be sent. 
 
And, with that, I’ll turn it back to you, [senior administration official].
 
Q    Yes, hi.  Thank you so much for doing this call.  First and foremost, I wanted to ask about travel restrictions: Both Canada and the UK have temporarily suspended travel from India, despite the fact that they have quarantine and testing requirements in place.  So why is the U.S. not also suspending travel from India given concerns over the variant there? 
 
And can you also comment on efforts by both China and Russia to kind of step in, and — effectively saying that they’re filling a void with respect to extending support for — toward India? 
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  Thanks, Sabrina.  This is [senior administration official].  I think I can take that one. 
 
Of course, we’re — on travel restrictions, we’re always looking at whether there’s a need to add additional layers to the travel restrictions we have in place.  And we’ll — we’ll obviously continue to look at that. But I would remind you, I think as you mentioned, we do have, globally, the requirements to have a test pre-departure from any country coming into the United States, as well as to quarantine upon arrival and do a second post-arrival test. 
 
Q    Hi.  Thanks for doing this.  Two questions, if I may.  First, at any point during the recent discussions between the Indian and U.S. governments, did the Indian government make a specific request for some of the ready-to-use vaccines that the U.S. has? 
 
And the second question is: The Prime Minister of India’s office, in their readout of the call between President Biden and Prime Minister Modi today, said that Prime — the Prime Minister had brought up the issue of waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-related products, vaccines, therapeutics, et cetera. 
 
As you’re probably aware, a group of 10 senators, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, wrote to President Biden earlier in April, asking about the U.S. support of the India-South Africa initiative at the WTO along these lines.  Did the Prime Minister and the President discuss this today?  And where does the President stand on the issue?  Thank you. 
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  On the question of whether vaccines were requested, the answer is no.  And on your second question, it was discussed briefly.  We are looking at it, but I have nothing to say about our position right now. 
 
Q    Thanks. 
 
Q    Hi, this is — this is an extension to what has just been asked by Sriram.  Since you are saying that you have nothing more to say so far on IP or patent waiver, I’d like to know whether the U.S. doesn’t consider it their moral obligation at this point to actually waive IP and patent on the mRNA vaccines, which are proving to be better in fighting the mutated virus? 
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I don’t have anything to share with you on that. 
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  [Senior administration official], I can take just one point of that.  This is [Senior administration official], which is just to say that it is true that the mRNA vaccines have performed really well.
 
And, I think, overall, we have a supply constraint and a production constraint for mRNA vaccines around the world.  And so while [senior administration official] is quite right, we don’t have more to say about our position on TRIPS at this point. 
 
And in coordination with the U.S Trade Representative that has the lead on that issue, we do very much and are very much working with partners like India to bolster manufacturing of vaccines and to look at how we can boost production globally of supply, including for the mRNA vaccines.
 
Q    Okay.  Thanks so much for doing this call.  I’m hearing from a lot of global public health advocates who say that the Biden administration really needs to do more.  The ONE Campaign said that, “The [U.S.] has secured [more than] 550 million excess doses that could be used to help end the global pandemic.”  And we know that a lot more than 60 million doses will be needed.  So can you articulate what your broader vision is going forward for addressing the global pandemic?
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks, Sheryl. This is [senior administration official].  I can start.
 
I mean, I think, as the President said, we know that this pandemic will not end unless it — we help the world end it in countries around the world. 
 
Obviously, we’ve spent a lot of time focused on this country, but we’ve also spent a lot of time, you know, rebuilding American leadership in Global Health Security — rejoining the WHO; you know, investing the most funding, I believe, in COVAX of anyone in the world; you know, spurring production, as [senior administration official] was saying, including with the Quad partnership that was announced earlier this year. 
 
And now, as we said, we always would we — we’re ready to start sharing and we announced the sharing of the AZ doses that are in production still, but hopefully we will be able to share them over the course of the next two months. 
 
So I think we’re not taking any one way to approach this pandemic and help the world.  We know there’s lots of different ways, including, as [senior administration official] mentioned earlier, boosting production of vaccines across the world and then sharing one when we can.  
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, [senior administration official], I’d only — only just add that we — you know, we have $11.5 billion now in funding for the global response from Congress to the American Rescue Plan.
 
And that funding is going to fight the pandemic to help readiness in countries, including vaccine administration efforts, to get shots into arms; to reduce specific threats posed by new variants; to expand humanitarian assistance; and to address social and economic impacts, including secondary impacts; and also to mitigate the really — real impacts that we’re seeing all over the world of backsliding on health and development aims for HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, vaccine-preventable diseases, et cetera.
 
And so we are dedicated to the global COVID response and to ending the pandemic ultimately.
 
Q    Hey, all.  Thanks so much for doing this.  I have just one specific question about the timeline here.  You mentioned that the U.S. is — does not need these doses over the next several months.  Can you talk about what happens after the next several months, and if there is some other kind of risk calculation that needs to be done then toward the beginning of the Merck deal?  Can you just talk about the timeline more specifically?  Thanks.
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  Thanks, Erin. I think we — you know, generally, our approach has been to have — be prepared for a range of scenarios, and I think you’ve seen that over the last — the last few months of the Biden administration. 
 
And so, we, obviously, had started to produce some of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and we hope soon, in the coming weeks, that some of it will start to be available to share.
 
And given our portfolio and given our approach of having a range of options and having a range of — being ready for a range of scenarios, we just don’t think we’re going to need it in the next few months.  And so we’re ready to share what we know is coming, which we believe to be the 60 million doses.
 
Q    Thank you.  On the filters you’re diverting to the Serum Institute of India: Which vaccine or vaccines would those filters have been used to make in the United States?
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Hi, this is [senior administration official].  I can — I can handle that. 
 
These are — there have been — these are 36 millipore filters that would have been used to manufacture AstraZeneca vaccine that will be used to manufacture the Covishield AstraZeneca vaccine — vaccine serum.
 
Q    Thanks.  Do you have any updates on the Quad plan to finance vaccine production of India’s Biological E.?  Is that still on track?
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I can — I can take that one.  This is [senior administration official]. 
 
It’s absolutely still on track.  And our Development Finance Corporation is working regularly, hand in glove, with Bio E., and it’s — it’s moving forward expeditiously.
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  All right.  I think that’s all the time we have.  So, again, thank you. 
 
As a reminder, this call was attributable to “senior administration officials.”  And any follow-ups, you know where to find us.  Thank you.
 
3:09 P.M. EDT