Indians looking to travel to European Union nations may face difficulties even if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. As the 27-nation grouping relaxes travel restrictions under its 'Green Pass' scheme, none of the vaccines presently being administered in India have made it to the list. But as India urges the EU to consider allowing Indians who have taken Covishield and Covaxin vaccines and want to travel to Europe, there are some conflicting messages that have been sent out.
According to reports quoting sources, India has urged the EU member states to recognize the two vaccines and accept the vaccination certificate issued through the CoWIN portal. If the EU nations heed its request and recognise Covishield and Covaxin vaccines, India will exempt European nationals holding the 'Green Pass' from mandatory quarantine.
"We have conveyed to EU member states that India will institute a reciprocal policy for recognition of the EU Digital COVID-19 Certificate," a source told news agency PTI.
According to reports, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday took up the issue of Covishield's inclusion in the EU certificate scheme during a meeting with Josep Borrell Fontelles, the High Representative of the European Union. The meeting took place on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Italy.
At the same time, the CEO of Pune's Serum Institute of India (SII) insists that this is a routine procedure. Predicting that the SII manufactured Covishield would get the European Medicines Agency's (EMA) approval within a month, Adar Poonawalla said that the situation was being "blown out of proportion".
"The EMA is absolutely correct in asking us to apply, which we have through AstraZeneca, our partners, a month ago, and that process has to take its time. Even the UK MHRA, WHO took its time and we have applied to the EMA," he said while addressing the India Global Forum 2021.
Emphasising that it was "not a controversy" he said that there was no reason for the EMA to withhold approval from Covishield. "It is based on AstraZeneca data and our product is identical to AstraZeneca more or less and it has been approved by WHO, UK MHRA. So it's just a matter of time. It is not really going to hinder anything," the SII chief said.
Ponawalla had earlier sought to reassure Indians who had used the vaccine. "I have taken this up at the and hope to resolve this matter soon, both with regulators and at a diplomatic level with countries," he tweeted on Monday.
Somewhat contradictorily, an EU official had recently contended that the group had received no application for Covishield. "As of yesterday the EMA stated that it had not received a request for approval," the official had said an interview with news agency ANI that was published on June 29.
EU Ambassador to India Ugo Astuto recently clarified that there is no ban in the EU on Covishield. He told ANI that SII has apparently not yet applied to the EMA for approval.
"Based on what I read, status from EMA, they say they have not received a request for approval of Covishield. I'm sure when they receive they will process it based on their own internal procedures. I think EMA cannot start any procedure on its own if it hasn't received a request," he added.
The European Union's Digital COVID certificate or "Green Pass" will be rolled out on Thursday with an aim to facilitate free movement during the COVID-19 pandemic is to come into effect on Thursday. Under this framework, persons who have taken vaccines authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will be exempted from travel restrictions within the EU region.
Presently there are four vaccines that feature on the EU's list. These are Comirnaty (Pfizer-BioNtech), Moderna, Vaxzevria (AstraZenca-Oxford) and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson). The individual member states have the flexibility to also accept vaccines that have been authorised at the national level or those recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).