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Indemnity issue still holding up US vaccines for India as doses reach Pakistan, Bangladesh

India’s neighbours, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, have received millions of doses of American vaccines over the past few days.

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New Delhi: American Covid vaccines are fast flooding India’s immediate neighbourhood while New Delhi and Washington continue to lock horns over the indemnity issue, ThePrint has learnt.

Talks are currently under way between the US and India — at the government-to-government level, as well as between the Indian administration and American vaccine makers Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — over the supply of Covid vaccines.

However, the issue of indemnity — protection from legal liability in the event of severe adverse reaction among vaccine recipients — remains a hurdle.

According to multiple official sources, the issue facing the Narendra Modi government is thatt Indian vaccine makers will also make similar demands if India grants indemnity to Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

This is the reason why the American vaccines will be available at a cost through private players. So, in case of any adverse incident, individuals who take these shots will not be able to blame the government, the sources said. These vaccines, the sources added, will not be available for free unless the indemnity hurdle is resolved. 

Last month, for example, India’s Cipla Ltd was granted regulatory approval to distribute Moderna’s mRNA vaccines. However, the arrival of the vaccines and their distribution plan have still not been officially announced by Cipla.

The indemnity logjam has emerged as the main issue in the arrival of the vaccines that the Joe Biden administration has promised as donations to countries around the world, including India. 

Ever since the Biden administration announced that it will be donating 80 million American vaccines around the world, India and the US have been engaged in discussions on how many will be allocated to India. This, ThePrint had learnt earlier, depends on whether the government is able to indemnify Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Also Read: Legal liability logjam is likely to delay India’s share in US vaccine distribution

US vaccines in the neighbourhood

India’s neighbours, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, have received millions of doses of American vaccines over the past few days.

Last week, Pakistan received 2.5 million doses of Moderna vaccines from the US while more are expected in the coming days. All Pakistani citizens over the age of 18 will now be given the vaccines at designated centres.  

Bangladesh received 2.5 million doses of Moderna vaccines on 3 July, via Covax, the WHO-backed initiative for equitable distribution of Covid shots.

At a joint media conference with Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen, US Ambassador Earl R. Miller said, “This is a gift, at no cost, from the American people. We share these vaccines with the singular objective of saving lives. Because it is the right thing to do. It is what Americans do in times of need.”

On Monday, Sri Lanka became the first South Asian country to receive Pfizer vaccines from the US. 

Colombo has received 26,000 vaccines, the first tranche of an estimated 800,000 set to reach the country in coming days. These will be administered there as the second dose for those who were vaccinated with the AstraZeneca shot in the first round.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: Pfizer wants it, so do Serum Institute & Moderna — but what exactly is indemnity?


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