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Covid-19: European Union Challenges President Biden’s Proposal to Waive Patents on Covid-19 Vaccines.


Oct 17, 2018
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United States
Covid-19: European Union Challenges President Biden’s Proposal to Waive Patents on Covid-19 Vaccines.
May 11, 2021, 2:06 p.m. ETMay 11, 2021
Millions of Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses in Europe, Africa and Canada are still awaiting clearance for use. India’s vaccinations drop as infections reach a new high.
Follow our live Covid-19 news coverage.
Here’s what you need to know:
  • Europe signals it may not support Biden’s call to waive Covid vaccine patents.
  • India’s vaccinations decline as its virus outbreak reaches new highs.
  • Millions of Johnson & Johnson doses sit unused across three continents.
  • Signs of an improving pandemic outlook may be emerging for younger Americans.
  • New York City plans a $25 million program to put artists back to work.
  • Australia confirms it will allow its citizens to return home from India starting May 15, and other news from around the world.
  • Want a coronavirus vaccine? U.S. pharmacies say walk right in.
Vials of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine during manufacturing at the Recipharm plant in Monts, France.

Vials of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine during manufacturing at the Recipharm plant in Monts, France.Guillaume Souvant/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Europe indicated on Thursday that it won’t necessarily support President Biden’s proposal to waive patents on Covid-19 vaccines, creating an obstacle as some of the world’s poorest countries struggle to contain the latest wave of cases.
Under growing pressure, the European Union — whose approval would be needed — said Thursday it would consider the Biden administration’s decision. But the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said she did not endorse Mr. Biden’s plan, raising questions about whether the bloc would agree to waive patents. And Germany, the bloc’s de facto leader, said that the U.S. proposal could trigger “significant implications” for the production of vaccines.
“The limiting factor in vaccine manufacturing is production capacity and high quality standards, not patents,” a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said in the statement.
In her speech, Ms. von der Leyen said that the European Union was “ready to discuss any proposals that address the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner.”
But she also suggested that the focus should instead be on getting more vaccines to countries that needed them by following the bloc’s example in permitting the ample export of doses. The United States has so far balked at that approach, keeping most doses produced domestically for use at home. “We call upon all vaccine-producing countries to allow export and to avoid measures that disrupt the supply chains,” Ms. von der Leyen said.
The two European statements emphasized the challenges of winning critical E.U. support for securing the patent waivers. Many experts feel the waivers are needed to step up the manufacturing of vaccines and get them to poorer parts of the world where inoculations have far lagged those of richer countries. The European Union is a major force within the World Trade Organization, where unanimous approval by member countries would be required for any proposal to waive patents.
The European Union — and the United States, until this week — have been major holdouts at the World Trade Organization over a joint proposal by India and South Africa to suspend some intellectual property protections, which could give drugmakers access to the trade secrets of how the vaccines are made.
A vaccination center at a school in New Delhi on Wednesday.

A vaccination center at a school in New Delhi on Wednesday. Tauseef Mustafa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
As India recorded a single-day high in new coronavirus cases on Thursday, its vaccination campaign has been marred by shortages and states are competing against one another to get doses, limiting the government’s hope that the country can soon emerge from a devastating outbreak.
The Indian health ministry recorded about 410,000 cases in 24 hours, a new global high, and 3,980 deaths, the highest daily death toll in any country outside the United States. Experts believe the number of actual infections and deaths is much higher.
A second wave of infections exploded last month, and some Indian states reintroduced partial lockdowns, but daily vaccination numbers have fallen. The government said it had administered nearly two million vaccine doses on Thursday, far lower than the 3.5 million doses a day it reached in March. Over the past week, 1.6 million people on average were vaccinated daily in the country of 1.4 billion.
India’s pace of vaccinations has become a source of global concern as its outbreak devastates the nation and spreads into neighboring countries, and as a variant first identified there begins to be found around the world. The outbreak has prompted India to keep vaccine doses produced by its large drug manufacturing industry at home instead of exporting them, slowing down vaccination campaigns elsewhere.
In an effort to make doses more widely available within India, the authorities have allowed states and private health care providers to buy vaccines directly from manufacturers. But that has left state governments competing with one another for doses, and experts say it has added more troubles to a sluggish rollout. The authorities in Delhi, the capital, and several states have said they had to delay the expansion of vaccine access to younger age groups because of shortages.
India also lacks enough doses to meet the growing demand. Two domestic drug companies — the Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, and Bharat Biotech, which is making its own vaccine — are producing fewer than 100 million doses per month.
About 3 percent of India’s population has been fully vaccinated, and 9.2 percent of people have received at least one dose. Experts say that, at the current rate, the country is unlikely to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s target of inoculating 300 million people by August.
India has recorded 21 million coronavirus cases and more than 230,000 deaths, according to a New York Times database.
India’s government has said it will fast-track approvals of foreign-made vaccines, and on Wednesday the Biden administration said it would support waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines to increase supplies for lower-income countries.
But a waiver would need to win unanimous support at the World Trade Organization — and even then, experts say, India’s drug companies would need extensive technological and other support to produce doses.
“The drop in I.P. protections is only one element,” Anant Bhan, a health researcher at Melaka Manipal Medical College in southern India, said of intellectual property. Because of the additional steps required to begin making a vaccine on a huge scale, he said, “It is not going to mean increased access to vaccines in the near future.”
As Mr. Modi has declined to impose a nationwide lockdown like the one he brought in last year, states have adopted their own measures. On Thursday, the southern state of Kerala, which has one of the highest caseloads, announced a near-total lockdown until May 16.
Experts also worry that a crisis may be unfolding in India’s rural areas, where testing capacities are even more limited.
“My main concern is nonavailability of testing and the logistics of not getting people tested in rural areas,” said Gautam Menon, a professor of physics and biology at Ashoka University in northern India. “So we will never get the real numbers for either infection rates or deaths from many such quarters of India.”
The U.S. State Department has approved the departure of family members of U.S. government employees in India and is urging American citizens to take advantage of commercial flights out of the country. It said on Wednesday that it would approve the voluntary departure of nonemergency U.S. government employees.
On Thursday, Sri Lanka became the latest country to bar travelers from India, joining the United States, Britain, Australia and others.
Sameer Yasir and Suhasini Raj
Registration for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, in South Africa, in March. South Africa has one of the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rates of any country.

Registration for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, in South Africa, in March. South Africa has one of the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rates of any country.Joao Silva/The New York Times
Quality-control problems at a Baltimore plant manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines have led health officials on three continents to pause the distribution of millions of Johnson & Johnson doses, as the troubles of a politically connectedU.S. contractor ripple across the world.
Doses made at the plant owned by Emergent BioSolutions have not been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States, and the Biden administration has repeatedly assured Americans that none of the Johnson & Johnson shots administered domestically were made there.
But millions of doses have been shipped abroad, including to Canada, the European Union and South Africa. Regulators in various countries are now working to ensure that those doses are safe after the disclosure in March that workers at the Baltimore plant accidentally contaminated a batch of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine with the harmless virus used to manufacture AstraZeneca’s. Both vaccines were produced at the same site. The mistake forced Emergent to throw out up to 15 million Johnson & Johnson doses after tests showed that the batch failed to meet purity requirements.
E.U. officials, as well as those in Canada and South Africa, said there was no evidence that any of the doses they had received were tainted. But the problems identified in Baltimore have slowed their vaccination efforts while they perform additional quality assessments as a precaution.
Chris Hamby, Sharon LaFraniere and Sheryl Gay Stolberg
An 18-year-old student received a shot of a coronavirus vaccine in Los Angeles last month.

An 18-year-old student received a shot of a coronavirus vaccine in Los Angeles last month.Etienne Laurent/EPA, via Shutterstock
A series of vaccine developments and the loosening of restrictions amid an improving virus trajectory may foreshadow a welcome return to normalcy for many young Americans, just as summer vacation nears.
By early next week, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue an emergency use authorization allowing the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to be used in children 12 to 15 years old, a major step ahead in the United States’ efforts to tackle Covid-19. Pfizer also expects to seek federal clearance in September to administer the vaccine to children age 2 to 11, the company said on Tuesday.
Vaccinating children is key to raising the level of immunity in the population, experts say, and to bringing down the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. It could also put school administrators, teachers and parents at ease if millions of adolescent students become eligible for vaccination before the next academic year begins.
The move would be a major leap forward, experts say, and comes as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said that vaccinated adolescents would be able to remove their masks outdoors at summer camps.
Yet the eagerness of parents to let their children be vaccinated is limited, according to a new national poll, which found that three in 10 parents surveyed said they would get their children vaccinated right away and 26 percent said they wanted to wait to see how the vaccine was working. About 23 percent said they would definitely not get their children vaccinated, and 18 percent said they would do so only if a child’s school required it. The survey also noted that only 9 percent of respondents said they had not yet gotten a shot but still intended to do so, one more indication that achieving widespread immunity in the United States is becoming increasingly challenging.
As health experts focus on the future of vaccinating children, a growing number of students have returned to in-person learning this school year. In March, 54 percent of K-8 schools were open for full-time in-person learning, and 88 percent were open for either full-time in-person and/or hybrid learning, according to data from a federal government survey released on Thursday. But Black, Hispanic and Asian students are enrolled in full-time in-person learning at much lower rates than white students.
The Biden administration has made an aggressive push for reopening schools in recent months, including an effort to prioritize vaccinations for teachers and employees.
Sesame Street developed videos to promote getting vaccinated against Covid-19.

Sesame Street developed videos to promote getting vaccinated against Covid-19.YouTube
Elmo, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird are doing their part to spread the word about Covid-19 vaccines.
In a new public service campaign, cast members of “Sesame Street” explain why adults are getting vaccinated with a simple idea: Getting vaccinated means sunnier days are ahead.
“Our children and families want us to be healthy,” Louie, Elmo’s dad, says in one video. “That’s why I and lots of other grown-ups got the Covid-19 vaccine, so we can stay healthy and get back to the moments we miss, like seeing our friends and family.”
Elmo, in another video, talks about being excited for indoor play dates with friends and sharing cookies with Cookie Monster.

The Letter U also makes an appearance, riffing on Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” (an earlier version of this story incorrectly referenced Nina Simone).
“I’ll be seeing you in all of our favorite places with laughter and warm embraces all day through,” the Letter U croons. “The park where we play, the stoop across the way, that favorite cookie smell and Big Bird’s tree we love so well.”
The ads are part of a promotional effort to combat Covid-19 vaccine skepticism that launched in February, backed by the Ad Council, a nonprofit advertising group, and a coalition of experts known as the Covid Collaborative. Four former American presidents and their first ladies participated in a similar campaign earlier this year.
Over the course of the pandemic, “Sesame Street” has produced public health segments for children on the importance of hand washing and social distancing with Grover, mask wearing with Oscar the Grouch, and going back to school with Elmo.
New York Launches New Program to Pay Artists in the City
New York officials announced a new program on Thursday that would employ artists and performers to create public works throughout the city, in an effort to support artists whose incomes plummeted during the pandemic.
“The City Artist Corps, the City Artist Corps is going to employ artists as part of the comeback in New York City. We’re investing $25 million to employ over 1,500 artists to help bring back arts and culture all over New York City. We’re going to hire artists, musicians, performers. They’re going to be out in communities doing public art, public performances, pop-up shows through the summer rising programs, so many different elements at the grassroots, creating murals, you name it. We want to give artists opportunity, and we want this city to feel the power of our cultural community again.” “Imagine open culture, streets, parks, D.O.T. plazas, and so many other public spaces across the city brought to life by this program and by the work that our artists have been doing. As the mayor said before, there is no equitable recovery of our city without investing in the cultural sector. When you invest in arts and culture, invest in the hospitality sector, the nightlife and entertainment sector, tourism and retail, you name it. In addition, not only as an economic engine, but it’s also the presence of arts and culture and community makes for safer, healthier and more cohesive communities. So we want to make sure that artists are at the core of this positive impact of our city. And we want to help them by putting funds in their pockets to do the amazing work they have been doing for decades. We’re still working through details on how this program will be implemented, and we’ll have more to say in the weeks ahead. But let’s be sure that this is not only going to be the summer of New York City it’s going to be the summer of arts.”
New York officials announced a new program on Thursday that would employ artists and performers to create public works throughout the city, in an effort to support artists whose incomes plummeted during the pandemic.Richard Drew/Associated Press
New York City is launching a new program to provide funding to artists for public works, an effort to lend financial support to artists whose income plummeted during the pandemic and who have clamored for government relief, officials announced on Thursday.
The program, the City Artist Corps, will give money to artists, musicians and other performers to create works across the city, whether through public art, performances, pop-up shows, murals or other community arts projects.
Gonzalo Casals, the city’s cultural affairs commissioner, said the initiative would help ensure that artists were not left out of the city’s recovery from the pandemic.
“We want to make sure that we put funds in the pocket of artists,” Mr. Casals said in an interview. “Artists have been one of the hardest-hit populations. They have so much to offer and so much give.”
Officials said the city will spend $25 million on the program, which is expected to create jobs for more than 1,500 artists in New York City.
The effort marks a significant investment for the arts in the city. The National Endowment for the Arts, an art-funding agency that serves the entire country, has a budget this year of about $162 million.
New York’s vibrant arts and entertainment scene was devastated by the pandemic. Performing-arts venues were forced to close when the city shut down, projects were canceled and budgets were decimated.
A report from the state comptroller’s office found that employment in the city’s arts, entertainment and recreation sector fell 66 percent in 2020.
Because many independent artists work on a project-by-project basis, that figure probably understates the full economic effects. A survey by Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization, found that 95 percent of artists had lost income during the pandemic.
The city has already established several initiatives meant to help bolster the struggling arts community, including a program to allow outdoor performances on designated city streets. It also introduced dedicated webinars and counseling for businesses and nonprofit groups connected in some way to live performances.
Mr. Casals said that he and other officials also wanted to assist independent artists who were unconnected to larger institutions and might have been left out of previous city, state and federal programs.
At a news conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio compared the new program to the Federal Art Project, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression.
That program, part of the Works Progress Administration, provided struggling artists with paychecks from the government to help them make a living. The money supported artists like Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky and Lee Krasner, who would become central to American painting in the decades to come.
Mr. Casals said New York had not fully decided on the details of how it would distribute money, or how artists could qualify for the City Artist Corps. But officials hoped to have some art works on display for the public by July 1, the target date Mr. de Blasio has set for the full reopening of New York City.
“We want to make sure that this summer, New Yorkers, wherever they go, they encounter this,” Mr. Casals said.
Global Roundup
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Melbourne on Thursday.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Melbourne on Thursday.William West/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, confirmed on Friday that his government would resume repatriation flights for Australian nationals in India after May 15.
The resumption would end a travel ban that made it a criminal offense for citizens and residents of Australia to enter the country from India.
Australians who test positive for the coronavirus will not be allowed to travel, officials said, and the government has introduced a pre-departure testing regime in an effort to catch infections before they reach the country.
Critics of the travel ban have accused the government of racism and insensitivity, but officials have said that the restrictions are necessary to prevent transmission from the devastating outbreak in India.
In other news around the world:
  • The first dose of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine provides sufficient protection on its own to be used without a second injection, the country’s Ministry of Health said on Thursday, clearing the way for a faster vaccination campaign in Russia. The new policy arose from a debate among public health officials in Russia and a number of other countries about the benefits and drawbacks of accelerating vaccinations by skipping or delaying the second dose of vaccines that were originally designed to be administered in two shots a few weeks apart.
  • Starting May 12, France will allow all adults to book vaccine appointments if there are vacant slots available the next day, President Emmanuel Macron announced. Adults over 55 and those with comorbidities are currently eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, and beginning Monday, all adults over 50 will be eligible. “Not a single slot must be lost,” Mr. Macron tweeted. According to a New York Times database, 25 percent of France’s population has received at least one shot and 10 percent are fully vaccinated.
  • Athletes and officials traveling to the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer will be offered doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine before arriving in Japan, the International Olympic Committee said on Thursday, in an effort to reassure the Japanese public about the safety of hosting the event.
  • Germany’s health minister said that the country would allow anyone 18 and older to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, removing restrictions that limited access to older people and those in certain professions. Doctors should also be allowed to give the two doses quicker than the current standard of 12 weeks between jabs, emphasizing the need to “exercise more pragmatic flexibility.” He expects that children 12 years and older could start getting vaccinated as early as August.
Isabella Kwai, Hisako Ueno, Andrew E. Kramer and Damien Cave
A Walgreens in Greenville, Tenn., advertised Covid-19 shots available without appointments.

A Walgreens in Greenville, Tenn., advertised Covid-19 shots available without appointments.Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Just a few weeks ago people sneaked across state lines, designed websites to scour the internet and even tried to pay for coronavirus vaccination appointments.
Now, in much of the United States, getting vaccinated can be as easy as walking into a pharmacy.
Earlier this week, President Biden called for pharmacies to provide vaccinations on a walk-in basis as a way to encourage hesitant people to get the shot. He also announced a new federal website and phone number that will help people find the site closest to them.
“We’re going to make it easier than ever to get vaccinated,” Mr. Biden said Tuesday.
Chains like Walmart, Walgreens, Safeway and Stop & Shop have said that they are now offering vaccines to walk-in clients at some locations or in mobile clinics. Other pharmacies preceded the president’s announcement. Rite Aidsaid that it would accommodate walk-ins on a limited basis last week, for example. The Biden administration is broadening access to help meet a goal of getting at least the first shot to 70 percent of American adults by July 4.
Many of the chains qualified the offer, noting that walk-ins would be subject to availability and that it was better to schedule an appointment, even on the same day.
Federal health officials have also directed drugstores and grocery-store pharmacies to offer second doses of the vaccine to people who received their first shot from a different provider.
The Biden administration is hoping for an uptick in vaccinations ahead of the Food and Drug Administration’s expected authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for adolescents ages 12 to 15 by early next week. The president has said that age group is important in the fight against the virus because while adolescents are not as susceptible to severe illness, they can still get sick and infect others.
Convenience is not the only way officials have encouraged people to get vaccinated. In exchange for a free inoculation against a potentially deadly illness you can now receive a ticket to a baseball game, a stiff drink or $100.
Daniel E. Slotnik and Remy Tumin
Dining at a restaurant in San Diego last week.

Dining at a restaurant in San Diego last week.Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times
After weeks of coronavirus patients flooding emergency rooms in Michigan, hospitalizations are falling. On some recent days, entire states have reported zero new coronavirus deaths. And in New York and Chicago, officials have vowed to fully reopen in the coming weeks, conjuring images of a vibrant summer of concerts, sporting events and packed restaurants.
Americans have entered a new, hopeful phase of the pandemic as the outlook has improved across the nation. The country is recording about 49,000 new cases a day, the lowest number since early October, and hospitalizations have plateaued at about 40,000, a similar level as the early fall.
“We’re in a really good spell and we can act accordingly,” said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Irvine, who said it made sense to loosen restrictions now, when the risk is lower than it might be this winter.
Yet even as a sense of hope spreads, there remain strong reasons for caution. Deaths are hovering around 700 a day — down from a peak of more than 3,000 in January. The pace of vaccinations in the country is slowing, and experts now believe that herd immunity in the United States may not be attainable. More transmissible variants of the virus are also spreading.
That could leave the coronavirus infecting tens of thousands of Americans and killing hundreds more each day for some time.
Although more than half of adults in the country have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, a new national poll suggests that the American public’s willingness to get a Covid-19 vaccine is reaching a saturation point.
Nine percent of unvaccinated respondents said they intended to get a shot, according to the survey, published in the April edition of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Vaccine Monitor. And with federal authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for people age 12 to 15 expected imminently, parents’ eagerness to have their children vaccinated is also limited, the poll found.
Among the parents surveyed, three in 10 said they would have their children vaccinated immediately, and 26 percent said they wanted to wait and see how the vaccines were working. Eighteen percent said they would have their children vaccinated only if a child’s school required it, and 23 percent said they would not have their children vaccinated.
“We’re in a new stage of talking about vaccine demand,” said Mollyann Brodie, the executive vice president of Kaiser’s Public Opinion and Survey Research Program. “There’s not going to be a single strategy to increase demand across everyone who is left.”
Even so, public health experts say that while they still expect significant local and regional surges in the coming weeks, they do not think they will be as widespread or reach past peaks.
Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, the health officer in Seattle and King County, said there was no playbook for an endgame to this pandemic, but he urged people to get vaccinated.
“I’m sure all of us want to avoid a long game of Whac-a-Mole with imposing and easing restrictions,” he said. “Vaccination is the cure.”
Julie Bosman, Sarah Mervosh and Jan Hoffman
Demonstrators protested conditions at San Quentin State Prison in California, where more than 2,600 inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus over the past year.

Demonstrators protested conditions at San Quentin State Prison in California, where more than 2,600 inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus over the past year.Jim Wilson/The New York Times
The coronavirus tore through prisons, jails and immigration detention centers in the United States over the past year, killing more than 2,700 incarcerated people. Dozens of them died after being approved for release by a parole board, or while being held before trial.
At least nine prison inmates around the country who were already cleared for release died before their scheduled discharge dates. More than 50 men and women died of Covid-19 in local jails while awaiting resolution of the charges that put them there.
Those findings come from a New York Times review of state and federal court records and data, and interviews with prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers and court administrators.
The deaths raise troubling questions about the way the country’s justice system responded to a pandemic that infected incarcerated people at more than three times the national rate.
“Being in jail or prison, especially for a nonviolent offense, should not be a death sentence,” said Andrew H. Warren, the state attorney for Hillsborough County, Fla.
— Rebecca Griesbach and Libby Seline
A Covid-19 patient at a hospital in Moradabad, India, on Wednesday.

A Covid-19 patient at a hospital in Moradabad, India, on Wednesday.Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Members of the global Indian diaspora, nearly 17 million, have mobilized from afar to help back home, where the Indian health system is buckling under the weight of a devastating coronavirus wave. Here is one U.S. resident’s story.
The calls come at all hours, sometimes 15 a day, from some of India’s most oppressed and severely ill people, buzzing a cellphone that belongs to Dolly Arjun, an Indian-American physician assistant in Boston.
A few years ago, Ms. Arjun founded a telehealth program to provide free health care to members of India’s Indigenous tribes and to Dalits, who are at the lowest rungs of India’s entrenched caste system and have long faced discrimination. Dalits are typically the last to receive assistance in humanitarian disasters and often live in impoverished rural villages with no hospitals, medical care or schools.
Now, with a devastating wave of coronavirus infections surging across India, Dalits are facing a new peril, Ms. Arjun said. She said she was desperate to help, even though she is emotionally exhausted after a year of working with Covid-19 patients in Massachusetts.
“Tons of people are dying,” Ms. Arjun said. “This is just a human to human need.”
Her focus is not just Hippocratic. She is Dalit herself, a rarity among Indian medical professionals in the United States, most of whom come from upper-caste urban families. “The only reason they might know a Dalit person is because it’s their servant at home,” Ms. Arjun said.
Her telemedicine program has health workers in India who can translate for patients in local languages, but finding medical professionals in the United States to join the effort has not been easy, she said. Still, Ms. Arjun has recruited two physicians.
Patients contact the group through WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube, and the medical professionals call back on video. Often their first task is to reassure patients who have little understanding of the coronavirus or the appropriate medical treatments, Ms. Arjun said.
“Part of what’s happening now is patients are being told Covid is going to kill you, so they are panicked,” Ms. Arjun said.
She noted that in one Indian state the government has been broadly distributing packets of medications — including 25 days-worth of antibiotics, which cannot treat viruses — to residents, regardless of whether they have tested positive for Covid-19 or show symptoms.
Sometimes, however, the telehealth calls detect life-or-death emergencies. In late April, Ms. Arjun logged onto a WhatsApp video call with a young Dalit man and his 60-year-old father, who was at home with breathing problems in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, where it was around midnight.
“They didn’t know what to do,” she said. “They told us there were no hospitals or oxygen available, and they hadn’t seen a doctor.”
After assessing the man, Ms. Arjun urged the family to check to see whether any hospital beds were available instead of assuming that they were full. “It took a lot of convincing,” she said.
The next day, he was admitted and began to improve, but the hospital was running out of oxygen. Ms. Arjun put out a call on several WhatsApp groups for an oxygen cylinder, though the family did not know the name of the hospital and then fell out of contact.
Days later, she learned that the man had died.

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