By Karen Xu
On Friday, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) met with leaders of the Indian-American community at Celebrations by Rupa Vira in Ashburn, VA to discuss how to best support COVID-19 relief efforts to India.
They were also joined by state Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-87) and former U.S. Ambassador to Belize Vinai K. Thummalapally, the country’s first Indian-American ambassador.
Many attendees pointed to addressing the low supply of vaccines to India as essential to helping the country fight its current wave of COVID-19. Subramanyam referred to the low vaccination rates in India, where according to the University of Oxford’s “Our World in Data” project, only about 3% of the population is fully vaccinated so far.
“My concern has been that the U.S. government has been a little bit slow. In the U.S., we’ve had this challenge about how to distribute vaccines,” said Warner.
Last week, President Biden pledged 80 million vaccines overseas, but given India’s population of more than 1.3 billion, even that is barely a drop.
Another problem of sending aid is the logistics of both shipping it to India and getting it distributed once it arrives. Currently, businesses have been coordinating individual efforts and relying on private shipping companies, like FedEx for example, to deliver much-needed equipment including personal protective equipment, ventilators, and oxygen canisters.
“Small businesses want to help the cause,” said Priyank Vira, Vice President of Celebrations and The Signature by Rupa Vira. “We didn’t have an easy way to send them to India.” She suggests providing education about how to find the right places to get vaccinated to residents of India as an additional strategy to fight the crisis there.
Jayanth Challa, President of Telangana Development Forum, echoed this sentiment about logistics.
“It’s hard to ship from all over the world to India. A helpline on the USAID or State Department website could be very useful,” Challa said. “We can do a lot more to help India; tell us what you need and provide some guidance to do those things.”
Warner promised to continue to work with other business and government leaders to provide logistical support and equipment to India.
“It’s a really critical time for the U.S. to continue to sort of step up to the plate and take sort of a leadership role on the global stage,” said Thummalapally.
Warner is a co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, a bipartisan coalition that promotes a relationship between the US and India and addresses domestic and international issues affecting the two countries.
Karen Xu is a senior at Freedom High School completing her Senior Capstone Project at Loudoun Now.