Indian vaccine makers denounce US use of war powers to protect supplies
Two of India’s leading vaccine makers that make AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have warned that global vaccine production is threatened by export controls in the event of a US pandemic.
Mahima Datla, CEO of pharmaceutical company Biological E, said US suppliers say they may not be able to fulfill orders from global customers due to Washington’s use of the Defense Production Act.
Calling for urgent international intervention, Datla told the Financial Times: “This will not only make it difficult to scale up Covid vaccines, but because of it, it will make routine vaccine manufacture extremely difficult.”
US President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump invoked the Korean War-era DPA during the pandemic to secure priority supplies of materials needed to fight the disease. But with the United States ordering more than enough doses for every adult in the United States, American suppliers are struggling to do enough to honor contracts outside the country.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a spokesperson said last week: “The president is deeply focused on the issue of expanding vaccination, manufacturing and delivery around the world, all of which will be critical to ending the pandemic. “
Drugmakers around the world are scrambling to ramp up production as countries trade accusations of “vaccine nationalism.” Last week, European Council President Charles Michel said the UK had introduced a vaccine export ban, an allegation denounced by the government of Boris Johnson. The EU has urged the United States to allow free flow of drug supplies to address their vaccine shortage.
The White House said in response it was “in close contact with the EU regarding our common concerns about vaccines.”
On Friday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, also warned of global shortages of vital components, which were limiting the production of Covid-19 bites but also of bites used for routine vaccinations children. He said some countries had imposed legal restrictions, which “put lives at risk” and called on nations not to stockpile supplies. “We are all interdependent,” he said. “No country can just immunize to get by.”
Datla, whose company makes the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, said the DPA meant suppliers were “reluctant to commit to meeting their delivery deadlines.”
“The supply chain challenges are going to make scaling extremely difficult.”
Materials that are a crucial part of vaccine production include plastics such as disposable fermenters and bags made by a limited number of companies. Some vaccine manufacturers have been days away from shutting down production due to a lack of these large sterile liners. Supplies of laboratory reagents, used for chemical testing, were also of concern, she added.
Biological E, a family-owned pharmaceutical company based in Hyderabad, supplies vaccines to WHO and Unicef for worldwide distribution.
It is developing a Covid-19 vaccine in partnership with the American pharmaceutical company Dynavax Technologies Corporation and the Baylor College of Medicine with the aim of producing 1 billion doses. The company is also manufacturing at least 1 billion doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by the end of 2022.
Datla’s remarks come after Adar Poonawalla, chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, warned that the Defense Production Law could undermine the global vaccination effort.
“The Novavax vaccine, of which we are a major manufacturer, needs these products from the United States,” Poonawalla said. “We are talking about having free global access to vaccines, but if we cannot extract the raw materials from the United States, that will be a serious limiting factor.”
Datla said she hoped that after a Friday meeting between the Quad – a diplomatic and security initiative between the United States, Japan, India and Australia – that the supply situation could be resolved.
The United States is working with the Quad to counter China’s growing presence in the region and hopes to combat Beijing’s growing influence with vaccine diplomacy.
Additional reporting by Hannah Kuchler in New York and Kiran Stacey in Washington