EU's Vaccine 'Green Pass': Why is India Losing its Sleep Over It?
The European Union's Digital COVID Certificate: Why Indians have no reason to fret.
Over the past few days there has been a lot of reporting around the decision of the European Union (EU) to issue a 'Green Passport', or a digital COVID certificate. In India, hackles were raised when a report suggested India's Covishield, a bio-equivalent of Oxford AstraZeneca's Vaxzevria has been excluded from the list of vaccines automatically considered for the certificate. Overnight, according to some reports, India issued a subtle threat of quid pro quo - Accept not only Covishield, but also Covaxin, or your citizens travelling to India could face our ire.
How did Covaxin make the play no one knows. At least Covishield is derived from a vaccine that has received marketing authorisation in the EU and is World Health Organisation-approved. Covaxin has none of those qualifications (and no phase 3 clinical trial results publicly available yet).
Why was an international incident created over what is essentially an internal matter of EU?
Let's break it down one by one:
What is an EU COVID Digital Certificate?
It is essentially a digital document meant for citizens of EU member-states, or those legally residing in these states, that allows them free movement without restrictions (within EU). It covers all 27 EU members along with Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
No, it’s not just a vaccine passport.
It covers those who have been:
have a negative test report,
have recently recovered from COVID-19.
No, it does not mean those not vaccinated cannot travel. It simply means people with this certificate will be exempt from COVID-linked restrictions.
So to reiterate, the green pass is meant for EU citizens or residents, and its use is restricted within EU.
What Vaccines Are Automatically Covered Under this Certificate?
Now this is when things begin to look interesting. European Union says those vaccines that have received EU-wide marketing authorisation by the European Medical Agency (EMA) will be automatically considered for the certificate. What are these vaccines?
These are Pfizer and BioNTech’s Comirnaty, Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria, Moderna’s Spikevax and Johnson and Johnson’s Janssen.
Now, AastraZeneca’s vaccines are not just produced in factories across the UK and Europe. Under an arrangement with the COVAX facility, they are also manufactured by Indian company Serum Institute of India, and is sold as Covishield. Covishield is made by using the same technology as Vaxzevria, it's just that regulators also like to check the local manufacturing plants before giving certification.
While WHO recognised Covishield when giving emergency approval for AstraZeneca's vaccine, SII’s Covishield has not received marketing authorisation in the EU. And that’s because SII never applied for it, says EMA.
So even though Covishield is a bio equivalent of Vaxzevria, if your certificate says Covishield, you are not automatically covered under this green pass.
Again, this certificate is for EU citizens or long term EU residents. These citizens have not received Covishield because the vaccine being used in these countries is AZ’s Vaxzevria.
So I Can't Travel to the EU if I Have Received Covishield?
No, that’s not how this works. European Union says member-states are free to include other vaccines in their individual lists. After the noise in the media, German ambassador to India put out a tweet saying Germany accepts Covishield. Several other countries have come forward to say the same.
In fact, several European countries use other vaccines not on the list including China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac and Russia’s Sputnik vaccine.
So if you are planning to visit an EU country, you can apply for a green passport from that country. And if that member-state accepts the vaccine you’ve received, you can be issued the green certificate.
Even if you haven’t received the vaccine, or your vaccine is not accepted in EU, you can still travel, but you will face COVID-linked restrictions. In fact if you are from a country that is seeing a surge of cases due to new variants, you will still face restrictions despite your vaccination status.
Something that the German Ambassador to India also specified in his tweet:
“Confirming that a double shot of Covishield is fully recognized by GER as valid proof of anti-COVID vaccination (this does nevertheless not modify existing travel or visa restrictions for travellers from areas of concern/virus variants areas).”
So Why is India Getting Hot Under the Collar?
Sentimentality, false sense of nationalism, FOMO? It could be any of the above. Or a simple case of overreaction to the internal matters of European Union.
That brings us to the question on the top. How did Covaxin enter the mix? Same reasons as above: sentimentality, false sense of nationalism, FOMO.
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