NEW DELHI: A move by the European Union to deny a “green pass” to the recipients of Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India for travel to EU countries has been termed “discriminatory” by scientists and experts in India.
There is practically no difference between the Covid vaccines made by AstraZeneca, the original licence holder of the vaccine, and Covishield, they pointed out.
Europe’s new ‘vaccine passport’ programme, which recognises a few vaccines whose recipients will be able to travel in and out of Europe with fewer roadblocks than others, includes the AstraZeneca vaccine, called Vaxzevria outside India but not India’s Covishield.
The Covid19 vaccine by Oxford University-AstraZeneca is produced mainly by three companies, SII, SK Biosciences in South Korea and AstraZeneca’s four manufacturing units.
This vaccine is made from a virus -- ChAdOx1 -- a weakened version of a common cold virus, adenovirus while the spike glycoprotein from SARS-CoV-2 has been added to it. The components, as well as the manufacturing process, are exactly the same in the case of both Covishield and Vaxzevria and it is for this reason that specialists in the country are finding EU decision unpalatable.
“In my view, this decision is clearly discriminatory and without any plausible explanation on why the same vaccine produced in two different countries is being treated differently,” said Chandrakant Lahariya, health systems and vaccine expert.
Senior virologist and vaccinologist Shahid Jameel, director with the Trivedi School of Biosciences, Ashoka University too said that the AstraZeneca shot and Covishield are the same vaccines, made using the same seed stock of virus and the same manufacturing process.
“The only difference is that they are made at two different locations and I really don’t know the basis for this decision,” he told The New Indian Express.
He pointed out that the US FDA inspects factories and all processes for products exported to the US market and maybe it could be the same issue based on which the EU decision would have been taken.
Virologist Gagandeep Kang, associated with the Christian Medical College, Vellore said there seemed no reason for this denial to include Covishield in the “green pass” category, except that “it is not approved for use in an EU country”.
Lahariya meanwhile questioned the basis of the concept of vaccine passport saying that allowing travellers on the basis of their vaccination status and insistence on certain vaccines were not right, particularly as access to vaccines has emerged as a major challenge for the low- and middle-income countries.
“Also, this issue is still being discussed at the international level therefore it is not appropriate to rush for a decision like this,” he said.
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