'Don't Understand What the Issue Is': CoWIN Chief on UK Travel Advisory Row

While UK's new travel rules recognise Covishield, Indians inoculated by the vaccine will be considered unvaccinated.

2 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>CoWIN Chief RS Sharma. Image used for representational purposes.&nbsp;</p></div>

Amid controversy over the United Kingdom's non-recognition of India's CoWIN-issued COVID-19 vaccine certificates, National Health Authority CEO Ram Sewak Sharma on Wednesday, 22 September, stated that he is not aware of any concerns raised by the UK about India's CoWIN digital certification.

"I am also not able to understand what the exact issue is. We do not have any direct communication from the Ministry of External Affairs or from the British High Commission over any concerns," the CoWIN chief told CNBC-TV18 in an interview.

Asked about the controversy surrounding the vaccine certificate issued by CoWIN, Sharma said in the interview that there was one "minor issue" concerning the date of birth on the certificate. While CoWIN only collects the year of birth, the WHO standards recommend (optionally) the mention of the full date of birth.


Sharma, however, asserted that CoWIN users can register their full date of birth and download their certificate containing the necessary details, for the purpose of foreign travel.

"Our systems are absolutely top-class, world standard. There is no question on that. We are conscious of that fact since the beginning itself. I don't think there is any question on the technical aspect," he stated in the interview with CNBC-TV18, adding that the British administration's decision will be taken on the levels of policy and diplomacy.

The British High Commissioner had met Sharma on 2 Sepember to understand the architecture of CoWIN. Two meetings had been held between the CoWIN team and British officials wherein technical aspects of their vaccination processes – such as the working of the digital platforms and the issuance of certificates – were discussed, news agency ANI reported.

What is the Controversy?

After backlash over non-recognition of AstraZeneca's Covishield in its new travel advisory released on Tuesday, 21 September, the UK, in its updated travel guidelines issued on Wednesday, 22 September, has included Serum Institute of India (SII)-manufactured Covishield in its list of recognised vaccines.

"Formulation of the four listed vaccines, such as AstraZeneca Covishield, AstraZeneca Vaxzevria and Modern Takeda, qualify as approved vaccines," the updated UK guidelines state.

However, India does not feature in a list of countries issued by the UK for which vaccination from the relevant public health body would count as an individual being vaccinated.

The implication is that those Indians who have received Covishield will still be considered 'unvaccinated,' and will have to undertake a 10-day quarantine upon entry into the UK. They would also need to take a pre-travel COVID-19 test and another test upon arrival into the country.

"We are engaging with the Government of India to explore how we could expand UK recognition of vaccine certification to people vaccinated by a relevant public health body in India," a British High Commission spokesperson was quoted as saying by ANI, in a statement that suggests that the obstruction relates to the vaccine certificate.

(With inputs from CNBC-TV18 and ANI)

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