Health worker administering injection to woman (© Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images)
A health worker practices administering vaccines before the COVID-19 vaccination drive in India. (© Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States and India have engaged in “unprecedented levels of cooperation to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” U.S. Under Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said October 12.

Biegun’s comment came during a trip to India, where he praised the deepening U.S.-India relationship and the shared values and goals of the world’s largest democracies.

Biegun pointed to this strengthening relationship as leading directly to “cooperation on developing and producing therapeutics and vaccines” to fight COVID-19.

30 years of partnership

The collaboration to develop countermeasures against COVID-19 builds on more than three decades of U.S.-India cooperation in science and technology.

One such partnership includes the 33-year-old Indo-U.S. Vaccine Action Program (VAP), a bilateral program between the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and India’s Department of Biotechnology and the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Since its inception in 1987, VAP has supported the development, testing and distribution of vaccines by building research capacity, training scientists and facilitating partnerships across the public and private sectors in India and the United States. Ongoing VAP activities include vaccine research focused on tuberculosis, dengue, chikungunya, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, as well as research on other emerging pathogens.

Woman with child on her lap getting blood drawn from finger by man (© Anupam Nath/AP Images)
Meghu Tanti, left, a health assistant, collects blood samples to test for malaria in Guwahati, India, in April 2015. The U.S. works with India to fight malaria and to find a vaccine for the deadly disease. (© Anupam Nath/AP Images)

Indian institutions and drug manufacturers and producers have partnered with U.S. universities, charities and pharmaceutical companies to test and study potential COVID-19 vaccines.

Providing low-cost vaccines and treatments

The successful U.S.-India collaboration on vaccines and therapeutics has global implications since India is one of the largest suppliers of affordable drugs in the world.

Many of India’s largest vaccine manufacturers, including the Serum Institute of India (SII) in Pune and Biological-E and Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad, are playing a vital role in the global fight against COVID-19.

For example, SII is working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine with U.S. biotech firm Codagenix and is working with GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to produce 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for low- and middle-income countries.

SII is also manufacturing vaccines developed by U.S.-based Novavax and U.K.-based AstraZeneca, both part of Operation Warp Speed and recipients of funding and support from the U.S. government.

Operation Warp Speed, initiated by the White House Task Force, coordinated a public-private partnership to develop, manufacture and distribute safe and effective vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics in historically record times.

Additionally, the U.S. government announced in September 2020 that Gilead, the U.S. inventor of remdesivir, which is used to treat COVID-19, had granted licenses to several Indian companies to produce a generic version of the drug for “127 low- and middle-income countries.”

“We know that our continued close cooperation with India will be an important part of the global recovery from the pandemic,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Fighting the virus

While working with the Indian government and private sector to develop vaccines, the United States is also helping India respond to its own COVID-19 outbreak.

Since the beginning of 2020, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided $13.1 million and 200 state-of-the-art ventilators to India as part of the United States’ more than $900 million in global humanitarian assistance to fight the coronavirus worldwide.

USAID and agencies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, are working with the government of India “to train health workers, support local communities [and] strengthen clinical capabilities for better testing, surveillance and treatment,” according to USAID.

In addition to fighting COVID-19, the United States and India remain long-term partners on efforts to prevent, detect and respond to a wide array of infectious disease threats, including working through major initiatives such as the Global Health Security Agenda.

“I have never been more optimistic regarding the future possibilities of the U.S.–India relationship,” Biegun said in India.