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Stronger together

Stronger together
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After much feet-dragging and 'polite' expression of empty concern, the US has been galvanised into action and is now helping India with the necessary vaccine supplies, PPEs, therapeutics, oxygen concentrators, etc., that it needs to continue combating its growing surge of Covid cases. US President Joe Biden has expressed that he is 'determined' to help India in its time of need. This display of concern and camaraderie, while certainly appreciated and useful to combat India's Covid crisis, takes a very different tone than the one the US was using only a few days ago. Serum Institute of India's head, Adar Poonawalla had recently revealed that the reason SII vaccine production was slowing down was that the US was no longer willing to export vaccine raw materials to India. Poonawalla reached out to Biden publicly on Twitter but so no response. In the US, the White House was continuing to dodge questions from the press regarding India's request for vaccine supplies that the US was holding up. When it finally did address the request, the response was tone-deaf, to say the least. US State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a recent press interaction first tried to dodge the issue of India's raw materials request by trying to conflate the issue into one about intellectual property rights. When the reporters did not let go of the question, Price took on a blunt tone. He said that the reason why the US had not helped India or released the vaccine raw materials was that "We have a special responsibility to the American people". He went on to 'explain' that the US had taken the brunt of the pandemic last year and that it required special attention before the US could look to the world. He added that it was in the world's interest for the US to get vaccinated and immune as a mutated virus could come about in the US and spread to the rest of the world if left unattended. Then, in an impressively tone-deaf conclusion, Price went on to highlight what a great job the US was doing leading the world in this pandemic fight and providing help and expertise when required. Needless to say, through his convoluted answers, Price confirmed that the US would not be coming to India's aid until it handled its own situation. In the meanwhile, the US would not like to be accused of being a hoarder. This is well and good. Though it is not ideal, one cannot exactly fault a government for taking on a 'my country first' approach in the middle of a global crisis. The problem is that this runs contrary to the US's self-assumed position of leadership in the world. If the US cares about being the 'leader of the free world' that it proudly proclaims itself to be, then it cannot ignore an escalating and devastating Covid wave in India. This pandemic makes such selfish calculation irrational as a raging pandemic in one part of the world can continue to threaten every nation in the world regardless of the vaccination progress. More importantly, leaving India to its own means in its time of need does not exactly speak well of the US's reliability as a strategic partner. Not too long ago, when the Quad grouping discussions were ongoing, the US had pledged to support India in making low-cost vaccines to help end the pandemic. Was that simple lip service? Biden should understand that this was a bad look for America. Now, to be sure, there are obstacles. The US is battling uncertainty as partisan politics create havoc in the US. The vaccination campaign in the nation is now running into pockets of resistance with many Republican supporters refusing vaccines. It is thus understandable that Biden wishes to be overstocked and prepared when and if the US vaccination campaign is de-railed by those who wish to play politics with Covid. In addition, certain contractual clauses in deals with vaccine makers that specifically make it harder for the US to easily share its vaccine stockpiles including the 30-40 million AstraZeneca doses it has in storage. But there is no time to wait. Every day, the disparity between those nations that can afford to vaccinate and those that can't continue to grow. While no one is exactly in the ideal position to help, the pandemic isn't waiting around. Unless a nation plans to isolate itself later on, it makes no sense to focus exclusively on only domestic vaccination. This is why if the US plans to assert that it is 'back' under Biden, it is only proper to lend supplies and a helping hand to India, the world's largest vaccine maker. Well, better late than never it can be said. Regardless of how it happened, the US is now sending India the vaccine supplies it needs and looking into how it can further help.

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