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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The Biden administration is quietly pressuring India to restart vaccine exports with plans to offer a higher-profile role for Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an upcoming COVID-19 global summit in New York if he agrees to release vaccines soon, sources with direct knowledge of the high-level discussions told Axios.

Why it matters: India is the world's biggest vaccine maker. In March, Modi halted exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine — one of the cheapest on the market — because the virus was ravaging his own population.

  • Convincing Modi to renew his vaccine supply to the world — through the global vaccination organization COVAX — is an important part of the Biden administration's strategy to mitigate the international spread of the virus.
  • Vaccinating as much of the developing world, as quickly as possible, is in America's vital interest, because the uncontrolled spread of the virus inevitably produces more dangerous variants.

An administration official acknowledged discussing vaccine exports but denied they're tied to Modi's upcoming participation.

  • "We have regularly been communicating with [the] government of India in bilateral and multilateral channels to discuss vaccine supply and inquire about timeline for exports, and these conversations are not tied to a specific summit or engagement," the U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity.

The backstory: The U.S. itself effectively banned its own vaccine exports for months until it had enough supply for all Americans. It's also reserved hundreds of millions of doses for boosters, complicating its position as a proponent of dose-sharing.

  • Modi's government faced internal criticism for allowing millions of doses to be exported before the emergence of a second wave it failed to anticipate.
  • Now, six months later, more than half of India's eligible population has received at least one shot, according to official data, making it more palatable to resume exports.

Behind the lines: Biden officials understand vaccine diplomacy is a delicate subject with the Indians. In internal meetings, high-ranking Biden officials decided to take a soft approach to Modi.

  • Biden plans to host a COVID-19 summit on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meetings next week, with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy hinting the president will make some new announcements ahead of the summit.
  • Biden aides decided against trying to strong-arm Modi by conditioning his participation on his willingness to release vaccines to COVAX. He'll be welcomed regardless of his decision, according to one of the sources.
  • Modi also has been invited to a White House summit on Sept. 24 along with the leaders of Japan and Australia.

The big picture: COVAX, the UN-backed program aimed at addressing coronavirus vaccine inequality, has struggled to reach its goals.

  • Last week, it announced it expected to have only 1.425 billion doses available at the end of this year, down from the 1.9 billion the organization expected it would have in an estimate provided in June.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has been critical of wealthier nations like the United States for prioritizing booster shots ahead of increasing initial donations for residents in lower-income nations.
  • The United States has already donated 140 million doses and pledged to purchase 500 million doses from Pfizer for COVAX distribution, a White House official said.

Go deeper: Officials want countries participating in the summit to pledge that COVAX should be the main vehicle to distribute vaccines.

  • Despite its failure to fully cooperate in the international investigations into the origins of COVID-19, China is being invited, the sources said.
  • Officials also plan to invite Russia, which has largely abstained from the COVAX initiative.
  • Team Biden's goal is to convince wealthier countries to donate — and not sell — any surplus supplies.

Go deeper

Sep 17, 2021 - Health

CDC: Moderna vaccine most effective against hospitalization in U.S.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Overall healthy adults with the Moderna COVID vaccine had 93% vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization over five months compared to those with 88% protection with Pfizer and 71% from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a new report out Friday from the CDC shows.

Why it matters: The report comes as the Food and Drug Administrations meets Friday to consider whether to endorse a contentious plan for booster shots among the fully vaccinated.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
Sep 17, 2021 - Health

Key FDA committee takes on the big booster question

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A key FDA advisory committee is meeting today to discuss Pfizer's proposal for a COVID vaccine booster — but it will set the stage for the entire booster debate.

The big question: Not only whether experts believe there’s enough evidence to support boosters, but also whether they believe additional shots should be made available for everyone or limited to older Americans and the immunocompromised.

19 hours ago - World

"Quad" countries to discuss microchip supply chains during summit

President Biden (left) and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (right) participate in a virtual meeting with leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries March 12. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Biden, along with leaders from Japan, India and Australia, plan to work on building secure semiconductor supply chains when they gather for their first in-person summit in Washington this week, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Elevating the "Quad" countries is a key aspect of Biden's strategy for competing with China, Axios' Dave Lawler reports.