In Win For India, Covishield Okayed By 7 EU Nations, Switzerland, Iceland

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), the EU's top medical body, has approved only four vaccines so far and Covishield and Covaxin are not on the list.

Covishield is being manufactured in India by the world's largest vaccine maker - the Serum Institute.

New Delhi:

Nine countries - Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Spain, Estonia and Switzerland - have cleared Serum Institute of India's Covishield, sources said today, amid a row over vaccines accepted for a "green pass" allowing free travel in the region.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), the EU's top medical body, has approved only four vaccines so far - Pfizer-BioNTech's Comirnaty, US pharma giant Moderna's Covid vaccine, the AstraZeneca shot manufactured and sold in Europe as Vaxzervria, and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen. Only those who have been given these shots are granted vaccination passports and allowed to travel hassle-free amid the pandemic.

Covishield, manufactured in India by the world's largest manufacture Serum Institute of India in partnership with the Oxford University and AstraZeneca, is not on the list. Bharat Biotech's Covaxin is also not on the EMA list.

The EU does, however, also say "member states may decide to extend this (the certificate) also to EU travellers that received another vaccine".

Under these rules, Indians - vaccinated with Covishield or Covaxin - may be subject to quarantine if they travel to the EU nations, unless these vaccines are cleared by the respective countries.

On Wednesday, sources in the foreign ministry said India will begin a reciprocal policy when it comes to exemption from quarantine. This would mean that unless the European Union accepts those vaccinated with Covishield and Covaxin, people from EU will also face mandatory quarantine upon arrival in India.

Serum Institute's CEO Adar Poonawalla on Wednesday said the Serum Institute is hoping the European drug regulators will approve Covishield in a few weeks.

The Serum Institute has applied through AstraZeneca, Mr Poonawalla said at the India Global Forum, according to reports, He said it was "just a matter of time" since the vaccine was approved by the World Health Organization and the UK's health care regulator.

Earlier on Monday, he had tweeted: "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. (sic)"

Foreign Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday had also brought the issue up when he met Josep Borrell Fontelles, a top EU official. 

Last month, the Indian government had opposed to the idea of a "vaccine passports" at a meeting of health ministers from G7 countries. "Expressed India's concern and strong opposition to "vaccine passport" at this juncture of the pandemic. With vaccine coverage as a percentage of population in developing countries still low compared to developed countries, such an initiative could prove to be highly discriminatory. (sic)" Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan had tweeted after the meeting.