Ro Khanna: It’s Vital That the US Drop Barriers to Vaccine Production and Aid Covid-Ravaged India


Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). (Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Ro Khanna, the dynamic progressive US representative from California, was inspired to enter politics by the legacy of his grandfather, Amarnath Vidyalankar (1901–1985), the legendary Indian trade unionist, independence campaigner, and parliamentarian. Though he was born and raised in the United States, Khanna traveled frequently to India as a youth, and he speaks movingly of how “our family’s values come from my grandfather’s embrace of a Gandhian worldview”—in particular, Mahatma Gandhi’s belief “in the oneness not of merely all human life but in the oneness of all that lives.”

In recent weeks, as India has been devastated by a coronavirus outbreak that has seen record-breaking levels of infection and death, Khanna has emerged as an advocate for global interventions to fight the surge—outlining strategies for the United States to send protective gear, oxygen, and vaccines, and leading the charge to get President Joe Biden’s support to have the World Trade Organization approve a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver so that India and other countries can produce Covid-19 vaccines. After the Biden administration signaled that it would support the waiver of intellectual property protections, easing patent restrictions on the production of life-saving vaccines, I spoke with Khanna about the vital struggle to get vaccines to India.

John Nichols: Give me your sense of the severity of the Covid surge in India. How has it gotten so bad?

Ro Khanna: It’s been the most horrific crisis there in my lifetime. My family knows people who have died because of a lack of oxygen, a lack of hospital beds. I don’t think there’s an Indian American family in this country that doesn’t know someone who has been affected. So the scale is enormous.

There are several things that went wrong. One, a complete disregard for social distancing, and this idea of returning to normal (before widespread vaccination programs could be implemented), which obviously was a disaster.

Second, a lack of having the capacity on vaccines. Partly, that was because the TRIPS waiver should have been granted months earlier. There should have been more of a global manufacturing commitment. The last administration (under former president Donald Trump) did nothing on that. There should have been a greater effort in general, in these countries, to assist them with the development of the vaccine.

Third, I think this has exposed the failures of the Indian health care system. The health care system has a long way to go to be able to take care of the needs of people in crisis, and it shows the massive need for development.

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