UK is wrong on vaccines
Travellers to the United Kingdom (UK) will not be considered fully vaccinated if they have received their coronavirus vaccines in India from next month. According to the UK’s new travel rules, only people from European Union nations, the United States and 17 other countries are allowed to skip mandatory home isolation and testing requirements on arrival. The rule has justifiably triggered angry reactions. India is, after all, one of the largest manufacturers of vaccines for years, the credentials of its industries are on solid footing, and one of the vaccines being used was developed by none other than one of England’s most renowned institutions: the University of Oxford. UK’s inexplicable position will erode goodwill in India, especially since it has no scientific basis.
Why does the UK government then not trust India’s vaccination drive? One theory is that neither of the vaccines widely used in India – Covishield and Covaxin – have been authorised by UK’s regulator. If this is indeed the reason, it is illogical. Covishield, which accounts for close to 90% of doses given in India, is the same vaccine as Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria, which the UK recognises. The bio-equivalence between the two products has been established in Phase 2/3 clinical trials (The Lancet is carrying out a peer review). In fact, according to a July 9 statement by the UK’s parliamentary undersecretary, Nadim Zahawi, even Vaxzevria doses made by Covishield-maker Serum Institute of India are recognised in the UK. A second, and more likely, theory is that the problem lies in Covid-19 vaccine certificates issued by India. This was alluded to by UK officials on Monday, and it seems to be the problem with several other countries. For instance, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have used the Pfizer vaccine but are not on UK’s travel list.
In any case, the controversy once again highlights the world’s struggles with vaccine equity. As it is, not everyone has access to doses. Many who need to travel for work, study or be with family overseas face high costs that come with confirmatory tests and isolation. This includes Indians going to the UK. The controversy will also lead to diminished trust between the two countries. India, where the largest volumes of vaccines are made in the world, is among nations that hold the key to ending the pandemic. It is important that the UK takes a more reasonable position, and opens its doors to vaccinated Indians.