US, Indo-Pacific allies to expand India's vaccine production

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President Joe Biden speaks during a virtual meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, from the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, March 12, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden and fellow leaders of the Indo-Pacific group known as the Quad have announced a plan to expand coronavirus vaccine manufacturing capacity in India.

The effort to expand production and promote access to the vaccine in the region was unveiled Friday following a virtual meeting of the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the United States. It comes as the Biden administration is putting greater emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region in the face of growing economic competition from China.

Biden described the effort as “an ambitious new joint partnership that is going to boost vaccine manufacturing ... to benefit the entire Indo-Pacific” region.

“We will combine our nations’ medical, scientific, financing, manufacturing and delivery, and development capabilities and establish a vaccine expert working group to implement our path-breaking commitment to safe and effective vaccine distribution," the Quad leaders said in a joint statement.

The effort by the group to pump up India’s vaccine manufacturing also comes as the Biden administration and leaders of other wealthy nations have faced calls from France and some global health advocacy groups to donate a small percentage of vaccine produced in the U.S. and other industrialized nations to poor countries. Biden has also fielded requests from allies, including Canada and Mexico, to buy vaccines made in the United States.

But the Biden administration has remained steadfast that, at least for now, it is focused on making sure that all Americans are first vaccinated even as China and Russia have engaged in vaccine diplomacy, sending badly needed vaccines to other countries. Administration officials have noted the United States' $4 billion commitment to COVAX, an international effort to bolster the purchase and distribution of coronavirus vaccines to poor nations.

Biden was joined Friday by Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top national security aides for the virtual meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan.

The effort by the Quad is projected to allow India to increase manufacturing capacity by 1 billion doses by 2022, according to a White House statement.