Why your AstraZeneca batch may mean European holidays are off-limits

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EU vaccine passport will not recognise Indian-made coronavirus vaccine

Britons vaccinated with batches of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab manufactured in India could be barred from holidaying in Europe under the EU’s new vaccine passport scheme.

Millions of people in the UK were inoculated using doses manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), one of the world’s biggest vaccine companies, which are yet to be recognised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), The Telegraph reports.

Unless the vaccines are given market approval by the EMA, “thousands of Britons” could be “turned away at EU border crossings when the batch numbers on their vaccines are checked digitally”, the paper adds.

The EU Digital Covid Certificate launched on Thursday does not recognise the version of the AstraZeneca vaccine known locally as Covishield and manufactured by SII.

“Up to five million doses of the version of the AstraZeneca jab in question have been administered in the UK”, ITV reports. They are recognisable by the vaccine batch numbers 4120Z001, 4120Z002, 4120Z003 which are written on the vaccine cards handed out after a jab is administered and are also available on the NHS app.

The Department of Health has refused to confirm exactly how many India-developed AstraZeneca jabs have been administered in the UK. However, five million doses were imported in March this year. Authorities in the UK have used the name Vaxzevria on all UK medical records where the AstraZeneca vaccine has been administered.

“As we continue to cautiously reopen international travel, NHS Covid Pass will be a key service that allows people to demonstrate their Covid-19 vaccination status,” a spokesperson for the department said. “All AstraZeneca vaccines given in the UK are the same product and appear on the NHS Covid Pass as Vaxzevria,” they added.

The Telegraph tracked down three Britons affected, none of whom were told in advance they were to receive the SII-developed version of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Quite frankly [I feel] discriminated against, for lack of a better word,” 21-year-old Hannah Smith, who found that her first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine was produced in India when she checked the batch numbers, told the paper.

Another person who wished to remain anonymous added: “That vaccine passports would be a thing is entirely predictable, so our government should have made sure any they purchased would be recognised for travel everywhere.”

The decision to bar people inoculated with the SII-manufactured vaccines has created “friction” between the EU and India, Reuters reports.

The exclusion of the jabs, produced using “analogous methods to the EU-approved AstraZeneca vaccine”, has prompted “anger and the threat of retaliatory measures by India against travellers from Europe”. 

Earlier this week, Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar tweeted that he “took up Covishield authorisation for travel to Europe” during a meeting with the vice-president of the European Commission, Josep Borrell Fontelles.

“There is no suggestion that the Indian manufactured doses are in any way substandard,” The Telegraph says, noting that the vaccine does not have EU approval because “Indian manufacturers have not yet sought a licence for the product in Europe” as “the SII intend to predominantly supply low and middle income countries”.

An Indian foreign ministry source hinted to Reuters that an EU climbdown may be around the corner, telling the news agency that Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Spain and Switzerland had all told the Indian government that the SII-manufactured AstraZeneca vaccines would be accepted for the purposes of travel.

A second source said: “We have also conveyed to EU member states that India will institute a reciprocal policy for recognition of the EU Digital Covid Certificate.”

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