Serum Institute CEO Adar Poonawalla tweeted Monday to reassure Covishield-vaccinated Indians facing issues with travel to Europe in light of the EU's new 'vaccine passport' scheme, which does not yet recognise the India-made version of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine.
Mr Poonawalla, whose Serum Institute manufactures and sells the AstraZeneca vaccine to dozens of countries, including India, said he had "taken this up at the highest levels... with regulators and diplomatic" and that he hoped the matter would be resolved soon.
"I realise that a lot of Indians who have taken Covishield are facing issues with travel to the EU, I assure everyone, I have taken this up at the highest levels and hope to resolve this matter soon, both with regulators and at a diplomatic level with countries," he said this morning.
I realise that a lot of Indians who have taken COVISHIELD are facing issues with travel to the E.U., I assure everyone, I have taken this up at the highest levels and hope to resolve this matter soon, both with regulators and at a diplomatic level with countries.— Adar Poonawalla (@adarpoonawalla) June 28, 2021
Starting July 1 the EU, or European Union, plans to introduce a 'digital Covid certificate' to "facilitate safe (and) free movement... during the pandemic". The 'certificate' is proof the holder is either vaccinated, has tested negative for the coronavirus or has recovered after infection.
The EU's medical regulatory body - the European Medicines Agency - has approved four vaccines, including the AstraZeneca shot manufactured and sold in Europe as Vaxzervria. To hold a valid 'Covid certificate', therefore, a person must have received one of these four vaccines.
The list does not, however, include the AstraZeneca vaccine version produced by Mr Poonawalla's Serum Institute as Covishield; India has administered over 28 crore doses to its people.
Travellers from outside the EU will also be required to hold one of these 'certificates' - to be accepted by all member-nations - that will allow restriction-free movement within the bloc.
Therefore, under existing rules Indians (and other nationals) who have been vaccinated with Covishield will not be eligible for restriction-free travel within the EU; this means they will be subject to quarantine and other relevant protocols as enforced by each country.
The EU does, however, also say "member states may decide to extend this (the certificate) also to EU travellers that received another vaccine".
At the moment there are only two Covid vaccines in use in India - Covishield and Covaxin.
Russia-made Sputnik V, which has also not been cleared by the EMA, has been approved but has yet to be rolled out in appreciable quantities.
Covaxin - developed and manufactured entirely in India, by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech - is also not on the EMA's list. It also does not have the World Health Organization's EUL, or emergency use listing, approval, although this is expected soon, the company has said.
An EUL will allow Bharat Biotech to export the vaccine and easier international travel for Indians vaccinated with Covaxin, which is so far unrecognised as a COVID-19 vaccine by some nations.
As of now only seven vaccines have an EUL - this list includes both versions of the AstraZeneca jab - Covishield and Vaxzervria.
The Indian government has said it is opposed to the idea of a 'vaccine passport'; at a meeting of health ministers from G7 countries (to which India was invited) Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan expressed "India's concern and strong opposition to 'vaccine passport' at this juncture".
Expressed India's concern & strong opposition to 'Vaccine Passport' at this juncture of the #pandemic— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) June 4, 2021
With vaccine coverage as a % of population in developing countries still low compared to developed countries, such an initiative could prove to be highly discriminatory.@G7pic.twitter.com/zh6nhkEfbv
India has administered nearly 32 crore vaccine doses so far - which translates into a single dose for about 19 per cent of the population and the mandatory two dose for about four per cent.