Biden administration officials are coming under increasing pressure to lift restrictions on exports of supplies that vaccine makers in India say they need to expand production amid a devastating surge in Covid-19 deaths there and falling demand in the United States.
Funeral pyres have lit up the night sky in the worst affected cities, and the country has set a new global record of 350,000 new infections a day, which experts say could be a vast undercount.
The State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said in response to questions about the export ban that “the United States first and foremost is engaged in an ambitious and effective and, so far, successful effort to vaccinate the American people.”
The export restrictions fall under the Defense Production Act, which former President Donald J. Trump invoked in the early days of the pandemic and President Biden has used since February to increase vaccine production in the United States.
Mr. Price’s comments came on Thursday, the same day Mr. Biden organized a global climate summit with world leaders, which included India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.
India, the world’s most-populous democracy, is a vital U.S. partner, especially at a time when relations with China are at a low point.
“It’s of course not only in our interest to see Americans vaccinated,” Mr. Price went on to say. “It’s in the interests of the rest of world to see Americans vaccinated.”
That did not go down well in India.
“By stockpiling vaccines & blocking the export of crucial raw materials needed for vaccine production, the United States is undermining the strategic Indo-US partnership,” Milind Deora, a politician from Mumbai, one of the hardest-hit cities, wrote on Twitter.
India has also restricted the export of its domestically produced vaccines to meet Indian demand. That could halt the nascent vaccination campaign in Africa, which has 17 percent of the world’s people and relies on vaccines produced in India.
In the United States, county health departments that couldn’t keep up with vaccine demand a month ago have started closing some of their mass vaccination sites because they lack customers (some counties are declining vaccine shipments).
The seven-day U.S. average of vaccinations has declined somewhat in recent days, to 2.86 million doses daily as of Saturday, from a high point of 3.38 million last week, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At a news conference on Friday, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator, acknowledged that the pace of vaccinations nationally would ebb. “We expect daily vaccination rates will moderate and fluctuate,” he said.