Covishield gets UK nod, but India not on vaccine list. The dispute, explained

 Written by Joydeep Bose | Edited by Amit Chaturvedi, Hindustan Times,New Delhi 1 hour agoLikeHere’s why the Suncorp (ASX:SUN) share price is lifting todayUganda loosens Covid restrictionsVials of the Covishield Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination camp set up in New Delhi.  (Representational Image / Bloomberg)© Provided by Hindustan Times Vials of the Covishield Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination camp set up in New Delhi.  (Representational Image / Bloomberg)

The United Kingdom is facing a severe backlash for what many have called its “selective vaccine policy” after the country issued its revised international travel advisory on Wednesday, in which it approved several formulations of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine – including the Covishield shot manufactured by the Serum Institute – yet kept countries like India out of its approved vaccinations list, requiring Indians to follow rules set out for “non-vaccinated” travellers. The guidelines provided in the latest advisory suggest that Britain has no problems with the formulation of the Covishield vaccine, but with the Covid-19 vaccine certification provided by India through the CoWIN app.

The new rules issued by the UK have triggered a controversy here in India, with several lawmakers heavily criticising the “discriminatory policy” and with diplomats warning of retaliation on an official level.

Here’s what the entire controversy is about, explained in brief pointers:

1 . The UK government issued an updated international travel advisory on Wednesday (September 22), where it listed the Covid-19 shots which will be deemed as ‘approved vaccines’ for travellers visiting Britain from any part of the world from October 4 onwards.

2 . This new list included Covishield, the formulation of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII). In essence, the UK will consider a traveller as ‘fully vaccinated’ if they are inoculated with a full dose of any of these vaccines – Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or the Janssen shot. It will also consider the different formulations of the four aforementioned vaccines – such as Covishield (AstraZeneca), Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca), or Takeda (Moderna). 

3. However, even though the UK kept Covishield, manufactured by the SII, in its list of ‘approved vaccines’, it kept India out of the 18 countries from which the aforementioned vaccine doses can be administered. Thus, even if a traveller gets the full dose of Covishield administered in India, they will not be considered ‘fully vaccinated’ once in the UK and will be required to quarantine protocols due to an issue with India’s vaccine certification.

4. For context, there are currently 18 nations – including Denmark, Canada, and Antigua and Barbuda – that have been cleared by London for the UK ‘green list’. Travellers vaccinated in these countries – even with Covishield – can fly to Britain without having to follow mandatory quarantine protocols. However, a traveller flying to the UK from India will still have to undergo 10 days of mandatory home quarantine even if they had been inoculated with the same Covishield vaccine. The issue, as UK officials suggest, is not with Covishield but with India’s vaccination certificate through the CoWIN app.

5. This is what is being called a ‘discriminatory policy’ by diplomats on the Indian side. Earlier this week, foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla warned that if the UK did not amend its policy on Covishield, India could impose ‘reciprocal measures’. However, the new advisory issued by Britain a day later did not make it any easier for Indian travellers flying to the UK, despite recognising Covishield as an approved vaccine.

6. The guidelines provided in the latest advisory suggest that Britain has no problems with the formulation of the Covishield vaccine, but with the Covid-19 vaccine certification provided by India through the CoWIN app. Alex Ellis, the British high commissioner to India, said on Wednesday, “We’re clear Covishield is not a problem. We have been having detailed technical discussions regarding certification, with the builders of the CoWIN app and the NHS app, about both apps.

7. Ellis, however, said the UK wants to make the process of travelling as easy as possible. “We listen very carefully to what the Indian government says but ministers have to take decisions and they have been clear that Covishield is not an issue,” he said in an interview with a news channel.

8. National Health Authority CEO RS Sharma, however, said he was not aware of any concerns being raised by the UK about the Covid-19 vaccine certification by India, asserting that the Co-WIN system is WHO-compliant. “I am not aware of any concerns being raised by the UK,” the PTI news agency quoted him as saying. “The British high commissioner met me on September 2 and wanted to know details about the Co-WIN system.”

9. In his video remarks at the Global Covid Summit hosted by US president Joe Biden on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also said on Wednesday that international travel should be made easier through mutual recognition of vaccine certificates, amid several countries adopting different sets of rules to allow foreigners to enter their territory in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic that has caused unprecedented disruption.

10. External affairs minister S Jaishankar has also strongly taken up the issue of Covishield-vaccinated travellers being required to quarantine in the UK with newly-appointed British foreign secretary Elizabeth Truss at a meeting in New York. “Urged early resolution of quarantine issue in mutual interest,” said the foreign minister in a tweet informing of his meeting with the UK foreign secretary earlier on Tuesday.

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