Explained: What is EU’s new ‘vaccine passport’ programme and why Covishield has not been included?

With the new vaccine passport system coming into effect across EU from July 1, the absence of Covishield from the list of EMA-approved vaccines can be of particular concern for Indians who hope to travel to European countries soon.

Covishield manufactured by Serum Institute of India is not among the vaccines which have been approved by the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) for the “vaccine passport” programme that allows free movement of people in and out of Europe.

The EU Digital Covid Certificate, or the “green pass” as it is popularly known, has been created to restore freedom of travel for the public and remove the barriers on entry placed due to the pandemic.

With the new vaccine passport system coming into effect across EU from July 1, the absence of Covishield from the list of EMA-approved vaccines can be of particular concern for Indians who hope to travel to European countries soon.

But what is EU’s new “vaccine passport” system and why does Covishield not feature on the list of vaccines approved for the purpose?

What is the “green pass” which will ease travel restrictions across EU?

The EU Digital Covid Certificate, which has been created to ensure that restrictions currently in place can be lifted in a coordinated manner, is a digital proof that a person has either been vaccinated against Covid-19, or received a negative test result, or recovered from the viral infection. The document is valid across all EU countries.

The certificate includes information such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, the name of the vaccine or the details of the negative test result or recovery from Covid-19.

National authorities are in charge of the programme and the document can be issued by test centres or health authorities, or directly via an eHealth portal. The certificate has a QR code which can be scanned and it is available in both digital and paper formats.

The certificate contains a digital signature which is verified when the QR code is scanned. Each issuing body has its own digital signature key, all of which are stored in a secure database in each country.

The European Commission has designed a gateway through which all the signatures can be verified across the EU.

The “green pass” is expected to ease travel restrictions for people travelling to EU countries. According to the official EU website, the certificate holder should “in principle be exempted from free movement restrictions” and “Member States should refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on the holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate, unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health”.

Will the ‘green pass’ be absolutely compulsory for travel to EU?

No. While the “green pass” is expected to make the experience of travel hassle-free for people by doing away with restrictions, it is not absolutely compulsory.

The EU website states that the certificate will not be a “pre-condition to free movement, which is a fundamental right in the EU”.

However, those who do not possess the certificate will be subject to the usual travel restrictions and quarantine rules which are in effect in every country.

As a case in point, Indians travelling to France now have to produce a negative RT-PCR report before boarding and need to be tested again after reaching France. Moreover, they need to self-isolate for seven days after reaching the country and those who have not been vaccinated need to undergo “mandatory 10-day quarantine supervised by security forces”.

Which are the vaccines that have been approved by EMA for the purpose?

The EMA list only includes four vaccines now—Vaxzevria (Oxford-AstraZeneca), Comirnaty (Pfizer-BioNTech), Spikevax (Moderna) and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson).

Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inbox

None of the three vaccines which have been approved for use in India till date —Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V — feature on the list.

Why has Covishield not been included in the list?

Though Vaxzevria has been among the vaccines approved by EMA, Covishield, which is derived from AstraZeneca’s shot, is not on the list.

EMA said Serum Institute of India has not applied for Covishield’s approval, the BBC reported.

Even if the vaccine is the same, different manufacturers of the same product need to submit separate applications for approval from EMA. This is because the EMA takes into consideration local manufacturing facilities.

Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla has said that the issue will be looked into and taken up at the highest level. He tweeted, “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.”

Covaxin, which has not received WHO approval, has also not applied for inclusion in the EMA list.

What is India’s stand on vaccine passports?

Though EU has made it clear that the “green pass” will not be compulsory, the issue has once again raked up the larger debate on concerns around privacy and ethics.

The vaccine passport has been largely touted to be a ticket back to normalcy, but it has given rise to larger concerns over intrusion, privacy and a curb on the right to free movement.

At the recent meeting of G7 countries, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that India was “strongly opposed to a ‘vaccine passport’ at this juncture”.

“Expressed India’s concern & strong opposition to ‘Vaccine Passport’ at this juncture of the #pandemic. 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,” he later tweeted.

Source: Read Full Article