On 22nd September 2021, the United Kingdom revised its travel advisory, stating that Covishield, the coronavirus disease vaccine, jointly developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII) will now qualify as an approved vaccine for travellers visiting Britain. Therefore, from October 4 onwards, international travellers vaccinated with Covishield will be able to skip quarantine on arrival in the UK.
Even if India has been included in the ‘amber list’, still Indians will not be eligible for the new rule. Indians vaccinated with both doses of Covishield will still be quarantined in the UK.
Indians don’t get a green signal, why?
As per the latest guidelines, it suggests that Britain has no problems with the formulation of the Covishield vaccine. However, it has a problem with the vaccine certification provided by India. Notably, India had earlier protested the UK’s non-recognition of the Covishield vaccine. Later, it warned of “reciprocal measures” if the “discriminatory policy” was not amended.
The British High Commissioner, Alex Ellis, made it clear that Covishield is “not a problem”. Additionally, he declined to set a deadline for resolving the matter. He also said that things are moving “at a rapid pace” on recognising India’s vaccine certification.
National Health Authority chairman RS Sharma, who supervises the functioning of the Cowin platform, said, officials from both sides had two meetings earlier this month. Technical aspects of each other’s certification systems were discussed.
“In the first [meeting], the British High Commissioner met me on September 2. The second one was on September 21 between the technical teams. We made them understand how our system worked and they explained the functioning of their system to us. Both these meetings were quite fruitful,” said Sharma.
Furthermore, Ellis said, “We’re clear that Covishield is not a problem. The UK is open to travel. We’re already seeing a lot of people from India here, be it tourists, business people or students. Over 62,500 student visas have been issued till June 2021. This is an increase of almost 30% as compared to the previous year. We want to make the process of travelling as easy as possible.”
What are the new additions?
Under the new rules, only people who have got both shots of a double-dose vaccine such as Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna, or the single-shot Janssen vaccine, “under an approved vaccination program in the UK, Europe, US” or UK vaccine programme overseas will be considered vaccinated.
Additionally, people who have received these jabs in Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea or Taiwan shall also be considered vaccinated.
What was the problem with certificates?
Earlier, UK did not recognise Covishield, the vaccines jointly developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca as an approved Covid vaccine for incoming travellers. The country’s authorities only recognised AstraZeneca’s version, the Vaxzevria vaccine as a certified one.
Recognising one but not the other had led to allegations of racism. This was backed up by the scientific studies of the bio-equivalence between both doses.
Covishield has been recognised by the World Health Organisation but not by several other prominent regulators, such as European Union’s European Medicines Agency (EMA), which has recognised Vaxzevria.
To remedy this, AstraZeneca has applied to EMA for SII to be recognised as an alternative manufacturer. “The company is tracking acceptances and currently 23 European countries are accepting Covishield without restrictive measures such as quarantine,” said a person familiar with the developments, on condition of anonymity.