U.S. curbs on raw material exports could dent new Quad alliance's vaccine push

Restrictions on exports could dent alliance’s push to speed global vaccinations, counter China’s moves

The U.S.-backed Quad alliance aims to invest in India’s pharmaceutical capacity as it looks to ramp up COVID vaccine output, but U.S. curbs on exports of key materials could hamper that effort, sources say.

The alliance, grouping the United States, Japan, Australia and India, wants to expand global vaccinations and in turn counter China’s growing vaccine diplomacy in Southeast Asia and worldwide. India is the world’s biggest vaccine maker.

India to seek assurance

As the alliance’s first virtual summit kicks off on Friday, one key assurance that India will be seeking is for an easing of export curbs, said two sources briefed on the issue.

The White House said last week it had used the U.S. Defence Production Act — which prevents export of materials to prioritise local production — to help drugmaker Merck make Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.

“India’s seeking both raw materials and investments from Quad partners and once this aspect is resolved, then the Quad alliance can start large-scale distribution starting in Southeast Asian countries,” said one Indian government source.

Earlier this week Reuters reported that the U.S. and Japan would help fund Indian firms manufacturing vaccines for U.S. drugmakers Novavax Inc. and J&J.

Some of the additional supplies from India will go to Southeast Asia as China pushes its vaccines to supply Indonesia, Philippines and others in the region.

Filters and bags

But the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has said it is worried the U.S. ban on exports of materials like filters and bags, keeping them for U.S. companies, could limit production, especially of the Novavax shot that it was set to start making next month.

“The ramp-up and scaling of Novavax production could take a sharp hit, and if restrictions persist this could down the road also slow the ramp-up of Covishield,” said a source close to the matter, referring to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine that SII is also licensed to produce.

SII did not respond to a request for comment.

U.S. officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. India’s foreign ministry had no immediate comment.

Limitations to production of the Novavax and Covishield shots risk hurting the GAVI/WHO COVAX initiative that is heavily reliant on those two vaccines as it shares inoculations with poorer countries.

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