Indian vaccine tycoon calls Covid booster shots ‘unethical’: US judge halts use of Covid rules to expel migrants

Saturday, Sep 18, 2021

Washington: A federal judge threw US policy toward undocumented Southwest border crossers into turmoil Thursday by ruling that Covid-19 restrictions cannot be used to expel migrant families.

Washington District Judge Emmet Sullivan supported pro-migrant groups who challenged the administration of President Joe Biden on August 2 to drop the policy of predecessor Donald Trump of using contagion-prevention laws to halt hundreds of thousands of people trying to cross the border from Mexico.

Sullivan issued a temporary injunction against blocking migrant families using the so-called Title 42 rule starting on September 30. That will leave the administration without a crucial tool that had been used to expel more than 92,000 border-crossers last month alone.

But that two-week delay gives the Department of Homeland Security, in charge of border policy, the opportunity to appeal to keep the policy in place. Sullivan ruled that nothing about Title 42 of federal public health laws permitted the government to use them to deny migrants the right to seek humanitarian protection and asylum.

He also said that, given the spread of vaccinations and lack of evidence that migrants were exacerbating the coronavirus pandemic, the government could no longer justify the use of the law to repatriate migrants.

"The court is not convinced that the transmission of Covid-19 during border processing cannot be significantly mitigated," he said. He noted that children who cross the border into the United States without family are permitted to stay and be resettled in an exception to Title 42 policy.

"President Biden should have ended this cruel and lawless policy long ago, and the court was correct to reject it today," said Omar Jadwat, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, which joined other plaintiffs in the case.

There was no immediate response from the Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile, the head of the world’s largest vaccine maker said on Friday it was "unethical" to give third doses of the Covid-19 vaccine while developing nations are struggling to access first and second jabs.

Adar Poonawalla, billionaire chief executive of Serum Institute of India, spoke out as he announced a $4.9 billion deal to take a 15 percent stake in a rival pharma firm, allowing vaccine production to be ramped up.

Israel was the first country to recommend Covid-19 booster doses in July and several European nations have since followed, targeting high-risk groups. The United States, which is suffering rising coronavirus cases, is expected to roll out booster doses from next week.

"It’s unethical to start giving three doses to somebody when others in certain countries and populations have not even got two doses," Poonawalla told reporters. He added it was "not right" to roll out booster shots when poorer countries have "not been able to get the vaccines purely because the rich nations have taken away most of the vaccines."

Serum Institute is currently producing 160 million doses of Astra-Zeneca’s Covishield each month, but Poonawalla said this would go up to 200 million from October. Despite India’s export ban because of shortages that have hit the domestic vaccination drive, he said he expects restrictions will "slowly ease in the next month or two".

He acknowledged that "some very vulnerable sections" could benefit from booster shots, but added: "There is no evidence to say so far that Covishield requires a third dose." Serum Institute is taking a stake in fellow pharma billionaire Kiran Mazumdar Shaw’s Biocon Biologics.