Immunized But Not Allowed: The EU Claims That Not All Coronavirus Vaccination Are Created Equal

LONDON — Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor and his wife believed they would be free to go to any European location this summer after receiving two doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccination in Nigeria. They were mistaken.

Because many European and other countries do not accept the Indian-made version of the vaccine for travel, the couple — and millions of others who have been vaccinated through a United Nations-backed campaign — may be prohibited from visiting numerous European and other countries.

Although the AstraZeneca vaccination manufactured in Europe has been approved by Europe’s medicines regulatory authorities, the same injection prepared in India has not.

AstraZeneca has not finished the essential documentation on the Indian facility, according to EU authorities, which includes data on its production processes and quality control requirements.

However, other experts condemn the EU decision as discriminatory and unscientific, pointing out that the plant has been examined and authorized by the World Health Organization. According to health authorities, the scenario would not only delay travel and upset already-fragile economies, but it will also erode vaccination trust by appearing to designate some vaccines as inferior.

As vaccination rates grow in Europe and other developed nations, authorities are loosening coronavirus border restrictions in order to save the summer vacation season.

The European Union introduced its digital COVID-19 certificate earlier this month, allowing EU residents to freely move within the 27-nation bloc if they have been vaccinated with one of the four shots authorized by the European Medicines Agency, have a recent negative test, or have proof of recent recovery from the virus.

While the United States and the United Kingdom remain generally restricted to international visitors, the EU certificate is viewed as a potential model for COVID-19 travel and a method to improve economies.

Vaccinations from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are among the officially EU-approved vaccines. They exclude the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is made in India, as well as many other vaccines used in poor nations, such as those developed in China and Russia.

Individual EU nations are allowed to impose their own restrictions for visitors from within and outside the union, and these rules vary greatly, further confusing tourists. Several EU nations, like Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland, allow persons to enter after receiving vaccines that are not approved by the EU; others, including France and Italy, do not.

The knowledge that he may be prohibited was “a harsh awakening” for Nsofor. Nsofor and his wife were looking forward to a European holiday with their two young girls, possibly admiring the Eiffel Tower in Paris or seeing Salzburg in Austria, after a difficult year working in Abuja during the epidemic.

Nsofor stated that the Indian-made vaccine he got was approved by WHO for emergency use and was provided through COVAX, a United Nations-backed initiative that provides vaccines to the world’s impoverished. The Serum Institute of India plant was visited by the WHO to check that it followed excellent production procedures and fulfilled quality control requirements.

“We appreciate the EU funding for COVAX, but they are now effectively discriminating against a vaccine that they actively financed and promoted,” Nsofor added. “All of a sudden, there will be all kinds of conspiracy theories about how the vaccinations we get in Africa aren’t as good as the ones they get in the West.”

During COVID-19, Ivo Vlaev, a professor at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom who advises the government on behavioral science, acknowledged that Western countries’ unwillingness to recognize vaccines used in developing countries may promote mistrust.

“Those who were previously skeptical of vaccinations will be considerably more skeptical,” Vlaev said. “They may also lose faith in government-issued public health messaging and be less likely to follow COVID rules.”

Countries who refuse to accept vaccinations authorized by WHO, according to Dr. Mesfin Teklu Tessema, head of health for the International Rescue Committee, are going against scientific facts.

“Vaccines that meet the WHO’s minimum standards should be accepted. Otherwise, it appears that there is some racism here,” he added.

WHO has urged countries to accept all of the vaccines it has approved, including two produced in China. Countries that refuse to do so are “undermining confidence in lifesaving vaccines that have already been shown to be safe and effective, affecting vaccine uptake and potentially putting billions of people at risk,” according to a statement released by the United Nations Health Organization earlier this month.

Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of the Serum Institute of India, tweeted in June that he was concerned about vaccinated Indians having difficulty going to the EU and that he was discussing the issue with authorities and nations at the highest levels.

Last Monday, Stefan De Keersmaeker, a spokesperson for the EU’s executive arm, claimed that authorities were required to inspect the Indian factory’s manufacturing process.

He stated, “We are not attempting to raise any questions about this vaccination.”

The documentation on the Indian facility was just recently filed to the EU drug regulatory body, according to AstraZeneca. It did not explain why it did not do so sooner, before the agency’s January ruling.

Countries that refuse to acknowledge WHO-backed vaccinations, according to public health experts, are hindering global efforts to safely resume travel.

“You can’t block nations off from the rest of the world indefinitely,” said University of Cambridge’s Dr. Raghib Ali. “To exclude some people from entering specific countries based on the vaccination they got is irrational because we know that these authorized vaccines are very protective.”

Nsofor and his wife are still choosing where they would spend their summer vacation, although they are considering Singapore or East Africa.

He remarked, “I had no idea there were so many levels to vaccination inequality.”

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