EU digital certificate/ Green Pass
The European Union has decided to roll out vaccine passports or a Green Pass from July 1st for those residing in Europe to ensure easier travel across the European Union. The pass which can be printed or kept in a digital format will show details such as the name of the vaccine with which the person has been vaccinated, information regarding recent negative test results, and details regarding recent recovery from COVID.
The benefit that such a digital passport has is that it allows for travel without stringent restrictions like mandatory quarantine or compulsory testing. It also has a QR code which entails a digital signature that will be recognized and validated by repositories across Europe.
The vaccines approved for the Green Pass must be sanctioned by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for their sale in the European Union market. Considering this criterion, the vaccines that have been given eligibility are- Comirnaty (Pfizer & BionTech), Moderna, Vaxzervia (Astrazeneca), and Janssen (Jhonson and Jhonson).
Why hasn't Covishield been listed
Covishield is developed by Oxford AstraZeneca but manufactured at the Serum Institute of India, Pune. Even though the Astrazeneca vaccines produced in Europe and other countries have been approved for the green pass, it raises considerable doubts about why the same version of the vaccine (Covishield) is not included in the list of approved vaccines coming under AstraZeneca.
Covishield is not recognized for sale in European markets because under the agreement with AstraZeneca the Serum Institute was not planning to supply its vaccine to EU countries. Hence, the vaccine’s eligibility has not been mentioned for the EU Digital Certificate. It is also important to note that WHO has approved Covishield as a valid vaccine to combat COVID-19. The UN health agency has also listed it in its emergency use list.
Cause for Concern?
Considering all the developments, there are concerns if there will be travel bans or restrictions for people traveling to Europe and vaccinated with Covishield. This includes a large number of Indians, and people vaccinated as part of the COVAX vaccine alliance co-organized by the WHO, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), and GAVI. The alliance aims to ensure equitable access to vaccines for countries incapable of manufacturing them for themselves. It also aims to procure a list of diverse approved vaccines from around the world and distribute them to areas where vaccine access is limited. This includes low and middle-income countries across the world including Africa, South America, South Asia, etc. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have also raised concerns for the people who have been vaccinated by Covishield in African countries as part of the COVAX initiative. According to data from the ministry of external affairs, 19.9 million doses of Covishield have been supplied to fill in COVAX and another 46 million doses through individual diplomatic relations with other countries.
A sigh of relief
The Green Pass is not a precondition for travel to Europe and within the continent. People without the digital certificate will have to go through Covid management protocol depending on the criteria of each EU country. This includes processes like testing on arrival and mandatory quarantine. The EU website mentions that the pass is not a precondition for free movement in Europe. It also mentions that the digital certificate will not act as a substitute for travel documents like passports or identity cards. All it does is ease travel across Europe.
The ‘European Medicines Agency’ (EMA) says that the Serum Institute in Pune has not applied for the approval of Covishield in the European market. The agency claims that even though the vaccines produced are the same under Astrazeneca, they come under different manufacturers and markets, hence for Covishield to be approved as an eligibility condition for the Green Pass separate applications should be sent in.
Mr. Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of Serum Institute has confirmed that he has taken up the issue with authorities through regulatory and diplomatic channels’ at the highest level. He assures that a solution will arise soon.
But considering the overall situation, there is no need for panic as the concern of travel bans for Covishield vaccinated countries outside Europe is ruled out. The purpose is to ease travel restrictions for travel in and out of the European Union for those who have the vaccine passport or Green Pass.
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