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Jaishankar takes up Covishield recognition issue with EU at meeting in Italy

The Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar met Josep Borrell Fontelles, a High Representative of EU to discuss among other matters the Covishield authorisation for travel to Europe

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday took up the issue of inclusion of Covishield in the European Union (EU) COVID-19 Vaccination Passport with a top EU official and said he would pursue the matter further.

Jaishankar, who met Josep Borrell Fontelles, the High Representative of the European Union on the sidelines of the G20 Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Italy, said he held a comprehensive review of India's relationship with the EU.

"Discussed vaccine production and access. Took up 'Covishield' authorisation for travel to Europe. Will be following up," Mr Jaishankar tweeted.

In what appears to be a clear case of discrimination, the EU green pass recognises only AstraZeneca shots produced in Britain and the company’s other factories in Europe and thus approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Anyone vaccinated with an AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India would not be qualified to get the pass. Apart from Indians, this includes most citizens of low- and middle-income countries who were immunised with vaccines distributed by the WHO co-sponsored COVAX initiative.

Most of the COVAX facility’s global procurement and distribution was built around the Covishield brand of the AstraZeneca vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India.

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Other countries recognise Covishield as it has been approved by the WHO. The EU move, therefore, is clearly out of sync with the global practice on the issue.

Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla had tweeted on Monday to reassure Indians vaccinated with Covishield who are expected to face issues with travel to the European Union as the EU's new 'vaccine passport' scheme does not recognise the India-made vaccine which is the same as the AstraZeneca doses.

 “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," Poonawalla said.

The much-trumpeted European Union COVID Digital Green Pass which will be launched on July 1 is meant to ease travel to Europe for those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 has strangely excluded Covishield which is the Indian brand of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

Under the EU Digital COVID Certificate system, freedom will be restored to the region for individuals that have been fully vaccinated with one of the vaccines approved by EMA. , in addition to individuals that have recently recovered from the virus, and those who tested negative. The Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca doses manufactured in the UK and Europe are the only ones included in the list.

While WHO has opposed issuing COVID passports at all, a major controversy has arisen over the non-inclusion of Covishield and other WHO-approved vaccines on the list of EMA-approved products that can be considered for the EU digital green pass.

As of 25 June, more than 89 million vaccines have been distributed by the COVAX initiative to some 133 mostly low- and middle-income countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, according to Gavi, the alliance which along with the WHO is running the massive COVAX programme to fight the coronavirus pandemic.