SAN FRANCISCO - A travel ban goes into effect Tuesday for non-U.S. citizens traveling to the U.S. from India. It comes as COVID cases in India continue to climb and an international debate emerges on how to make vaccines more available to other nations.
The World Trade Organization has its regular meeting on Wednesday. The Biden Administration's U.S. trade representative to the organization, Katherine Tai, is considering whether to agree to temporarily lift patents on Covid vaccines, according to a report from the Washington Post.
Doing that would allow other nations, like India, to produce a generic version of the vaccine without fear of being sued for violating intellectual property rights. More generic vaccines would lead to more shots in peoples' arms, immediately.
"It is absolutely true that with a respiratory virus, we are all profoundly interconnected," said UCSF Infectious Disease Professor Dr. Monica Gandhi.
If India's COVID crisis continues, the densely populated nation could serve as a breeding ground for additional new variants, which poses a threat to the rest of the world.
India is reporting nearly 400,000 new COVID-19 infections and 3,600 deaths on a daily basis. Its health care system is on the brink of collapse.
"We need oxygen, we need vehicles for transporting, we need medicines, anything, anything will help," said Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor Vikas Bajpai.
Only 2 percent of India's 1.37 billion people are fully vaccinated.
The World Trade Organization could allow for a temporary wavier of COVID vaccine patents, if all of its 164 nation members decide to allow it, based on an agreement formed during the AIDS epidemic in 1995.
"What they allowed for, is that during a medical emergency, there should be a temporary waiving on life-saving medications or vaccines, in the middle of a humanitarian crisis," Gandhi said.
India and South Africa requested the WTO temporarily suspend COVID vaccine patents in October 2020.
Back then, the U.S., Britain, Canada and Switzerland said no. But that could change at this week's WTO meeting:
"The Biden Administration is weighing the pros and cons, of waiving temporarily the patents on covid 19 vaccines, to allow more manufacturing capability," Gandhi said.
On ABC News' "This week with George Stephanopoulos," White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said, "We believe that pharmaceutical companies should be supplying at scale and at cost to the entire world, so that there is no barrier to everyone getting vaccinated."
In the meantime, starting tomorrow, travelers who've been in India for the past two weeks will not be allowed entry to the U.S., because of concerns about the variant circulating in that country. The ban does not apply to U.S. Citizens, their immediate family members or members of the military.