Monday, July 05, 2021

The EU’s new vaccine passport is causing whiplash for Africans and Indians

When news broke out this past week that the EU’s new vaccine passport system would not let in recipients of the Indian-made version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, called Covishield, public backlash was swift.

“These developments are concerning, given that the Covidshield [sic] vaccine has been the backbone of the EU-supported COVAX contributions to the AU Member States’ vaccination programs,” the AU and the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement. Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of India’s Serum Institute—the manufacturer of Covishield—tweeted, “I have taken this up at the highest levels and hope to resolve this matter soon.”

The controversy around the vaccine passport stems from the fact that Covishield is theoretically already authorized in the EU, UK and by the World Health Organization. But the EU distinguishes between one brand of the AstraZeneca jab, named Vaxzevria, and its identical, but Indian-made version, called Covishield. Covishield is also the main vaccine that has been distributed in Africa and India.

The move effectively cut off Africans and Indians from any prospect of traveling to European countries. On July 1, a handful of European countries reportedly recognized the Covishield vaccine, offering hope that more countries in the block may likewise recognize the vaccine soon.

But Oyewale Tomori, a professor of virology and the chairman of the ministerial expert advisory committee on Covid-19 in Nigeria, believes the concept of a vaccine passport was wrong from the onset. He fears these types of passports will create the wrong impression that the vaccines not approved by certain countries will be of poorer quality.

“The whole idea of a vaccine passport should be scrapped until we all have access to the vaccine,” Tomori says.

In African countries and India, the majority of the doses that have been delivered are of vaccines not recognized by the European Medicines Agency (EMA.)

The latest news indicates that the EU vaccine passport system only recognizes Comirnaty (BioNTech-Pfizer), Moderna, Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca made in EU), and Johnson & Johnson—all European and American-manufactured vaccines—that have been approved by EMA as well by the World Health Organization (WHO.)

However, the system doesn’t recognize the other WHO-approved vaccines, such as Chinese Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines, and the other two brands of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India (Covishield) and SKBio in the Republic of Korea.

According to data collated by WHO, doses of the EMA-approved vaccines are less than 13% of doses that have been delivered in Africa. According to New Indian Express, an affidavit by India’s Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry showed more than 90% of the doses that have been administered in India are Covishield doses.

African and Indian travelers are not the only people who stand to lose with the current situation.

Prior to this, EU countries had already put many countries with low vaccination rates or a surge in the pandemic on the travel red list, with some airlines limiting their flights to some destinations.

04/05/21 Uwagbale Edward-Ekpu/Quartz Africa

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