AU raises concern over EU travel pass limiting entry for Africans who took AstraZeneca jabs

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EU gives limited entry for persons who used AstraZeneca vaccines made in India; Courtesy Photo

The African Union (AU) and Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have voiced concern after it emerged that Europe’s digital ‘green pass’ does not recognize a vaccine that was donated to many African countries through the COVAX initiative.

The European Union (EU) Digital Covid Certificate enables people who have received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine approved by its medicines regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), to travel freely within the bloc.

The pass, however, only recognizes AstraZeneca doses manufactured in Europe (branded Vaxzevria) and not those manufactured by the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer -the Serum Institute of India braded Covishield.

Covishield has been described as the “backbone” of COVAX contributions to low- and middle-income countries including African nations.

In a statement issued on Monday, EMA said that Vaxzevria is only Covid-19 shot from AstraZeneca for which approval was requested and authorized in the EU.

“The current applicability guidelines put at risk the equitable treatment of persons having received their vaccines in countries profiting from the EU-supported COVAX Facility, including the majority of the African Union (AU) Member States,” the AU joint statement issued on Monday said.

“These developments are concerning given that the Covishield vaccine has been the backbone of the EU-supported COVAX contributions to the AU Member States’ vaccination programmes. Furthermore, given that the expressed goal for the Serum Institute of India production is to serve India and lower-income countries, the SII may not apply for EU-wide market authorisation, meaning that the inequalities in access to “Green Passes” created by this approach would persist indefinitely,” the statement continued.

The AU and Africa CDC urged the EU Commission “to consider increasing mandatory access to those vaccines deemed suitable for global rollout through the EU-supported COVAX Facility.”

The fact that two doses of the Indian-produced AstraZeneca vaccine does not guarantee travelers entry to the EU means a huge part of the world is excluded from the bloc’s current travel policy.

“This is because vaccines are biological products,” EMA stated. “Even tiny differences in the manufacturing conditions can result in differences in the final product, and EU law therefore requires the manufacturing sites and production process to be assessed and approved as part of the authorization process.”

EMA statement notes that should they receive a marketing authorization application for Covishield or should any change to the approved manufacturing sites for Vaxzevria be approved, they would communicate about it.

In a tweet posted on Monday, SII head Adar Poonawalla acknowledged that people who have been administered the Covishield shot are “facing issues with travel to the EU.”

“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 added.
CNN has contacted the SII for further comment.

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