Corporate executives and students, who were given the Covaxin jab, are facing restrictions when travelling abroad as the developer of India’s only indigenously developed covid vaccine is yet to secure approval from the World Health Organization.
Without the WHO approval, many countries consider those who have taken both doses of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin jab as unvaccinated.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UK and US are asking travellers vaccinated with Covaxin to undergo lengthy quarantine procedures upon entering the country until they get a WHO-approved vaccine shot.
While healthcare professionals working in Saudi Arabia are exempted from travel restrictions, the Saudi government’s covid-19 app Tawwakalna, which also works as a Health Passport in the country, only recognizes vaccines made by Pfizer, AstraZeneca and other jabs approved by the WHO.
“Those who have taken Covaxin are considered unvaccinated as per the government rules and have to undergo mandatory institutional quarantine and testing,” said Srivatsan Sridhar, head of transformation at Aster Sanad Hospital, Saudi Arabia.
As countries worldwide open up non-essential travel, lifting travel bans, many of them are only allowing fully vaccinated individuals to enter their country. These measures are inconveniencing students and professionals who have to travel abroad for work or studies.
“A few students, who took their first shot of Covaxin and are expected to start their international studies have approached us saying they are ready to take the risk and get a mixed vaccine dose. We have refused such requests,” said Hiren Ambegaokar, CEO of Surya Hospitals. Ambegaokar said that his hospital has also received similar queries from executives who took Covaxin and are planning to visit the UK and US. These executives now face the prospect of a 14-day quarantine in these countries even though they are fully vaccinated, he added. The choice for them is either quarantine or get vaccinated again.
“Covaxin uses one of the oldest vaccine technologies, but unfortunately, they have not cleared phase 3 clinical trial. Until the manufacturers get the WHO approval, this status is going to remain,” Ambegaokar explained.
Saudi Arabia, the European Union, UK and Israel are among nations that have formally initiated the concept of vaccine passports that considers those who have received two doses of vaccines approved by these countries or the WHO being “immune” to covid-19. Currently, AstraZeneca (including the version made by Serum Institute of India), Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Sinovac have received the WHO emergency approval.
Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccine is yet to publish its phase 3 trial data. The company has said that it expects approval from WHO in September.
Out of the 230 million doses of covid vaccines that have been given in India, nearly 30 million have received Covaxin. But going by the norms of travel passports those who have received even 2 doses of Covaxin will be considered “unvaccinated”. An email sent to Bharat Biotech seeking comment remained unanswered.
The EU last month said that it will announce a ‘Digital Green Passport’ that will allow entry of those who have received the last recommended dose of a vaccine that received marketing authorization in the EU or by WHO at least 14 days before arrival. This month the G7 countries will formally put in action a framework for vaccine passports that will allow these countries to open up border restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals. India’s health minister has opposed the concept of a vaccine passport as only those who received (Covishield by Serum Institute) will be considered vaccinated.
Several private hospitals across India are holding special vaccination camps for people who are expected to undertake international travel. These include students, health workers and sportspeople travelling for the Tokyo Olympics. However, looking at travel requirements, the demand for Covaxin for these categories of people is extremely low, said medical professionals who were undertaking vaccination for these groups.
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