The American pharmaceutical giant has emphasized it is waiting for the Indian government to approve its Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for use in the country
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, May 4, 2021 – American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has announced it will donate more than $70 million worth of Covid-19 medicines to India which is facing a massive surge in coronavirus cases overwhelming its fragile healthcare system while raising the risk that dangerous new variants of the virus may arise.
“We are all following with deep concern the critical Covid-19 situation in India and Pfizer is doing everything possible to provide support”, the company’s chairman and CEO Albert Bourla tweeted Monday.
The same day, the drugmaker revealed in a statement, “We are mobilizing the largest humanitarian relief effort in our company’s history to help the people of India fight the vicious second wave of coronavirus that is currently ravaging the nation”.
India set another unenviable world record Sunday reporting 392,488 new cases and 3,689 deaths over a 24-hour period, though experts believe the numbers are much higher than the government data shows on account of poor infrastructure, human error and low testing levels. It was the eleventh consecutive day of over 300,000 new infections. Total Covid-19 fatalities have crossed the 218,000 mark. In April alone, India has reported nearly 7 million new cases, out of a cumulative total of 19.9 million, pushing its health-care system to the brink of collapse.
In a video posted on the Pfizer website, Bourla disclosed that employees at distribution centers in the US, Europe and Asia are working hard to rush shipments of medicines that the Indian government has identified as part of the Covid-19 treatment protocol.
Among the drugs which “will be made available immediately” are steroid medications to reduce inflammation, anticoagulants to help prevent blood clotting, and antibiotics that treat secondary bacterial infections.
“We are donating enough of these medicines to ensure that every Covid-19 patient in every public hospital across India can have access to them in the next 90 days free of charge. This effort has the potential to impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients”, Bourla said.
Pfizer will work closely with the Indian government and its NGO partners in the country to get the medicines “to where they are needed most”, read a company statement.
The drugmaker emphasized that the vaccine it developed with BioNTech has not yet been approved in India though the application was submitted months ago.
“We are currently discussing with the Indian government an expedited approval pathway to make our Pfizer BioNTech vaccine available for use in the country”, Bourla said.
Congressman Ro Khanna (Democrat-California), Vice Chair of the House India Caucus, revealed on Twitter that caucus leaders spoke to Indian Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu who emphasized that India has the capacity to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines. In a teleconference call on Wednesday, the envoy told bipartisan chairs and co-chairs of the caucus what India needs, along with 59 other countries including South Africa, is US support for the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver to increase global access to vaccines.
Last month, in a letter to Biden, ten powerful senators urged the president to support TRIPS, a proposal jointly floated by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in October 2020 to temporarily waive intellectual property and patent rights on Covid-19 vaccines allowing countries to locally manufacture diagnostics, treatments and doses.
In their missive, the senators including Bernie Sanders (Democrat-Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren (Democrat-Massachusetts) wrote, “Allowing countries to manufacture locally will expedite access to vaccines and treatment, prevent unnecessary deaths, expedite global vaccination efforts, and facilitate a stronger, faster economic recovery”.
The proposal is currently in limbo due to the opposition of a handful of countries, most notably the United States, European Union, United Kingdom and Japan.
“The United States has a leading role to play in supporting equitable vaccine access for all countries, and its time we stepped up”, said senator Bob Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey), chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement released to the press.
“India is facing a humanitarian and public health crisis”, Warren tweeted. “We can’t let Covid run rampant in places that don’t have the tools they need to get everyone vaccinated. These giant drug companies need to do their part to get vaccines where they need to be”, she said about US pharmaceutical behemoths.