10 European nations recognise Covishield
Ten European countries, including key European Union (EU) members such as Germany and the Netherlands and non-EU states such as Switzerland and Iceland, currently recognise Covishield for proof of Covid-19 vaccination for travel.
Questions about travel to Europe by Indians who have received the Covishield jab, which is the version of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by Serum Institute of India, have arisen since the vaccine has not yet been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
So far, EU members Austria, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Slovenia and Spain, and Iceland and Switzerland, which aren’t in the bloc but are part of the Schengen visa regime, recognise Covishield for Covid-19 vaccination for travel purposes, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity on Thursday.
However, travel between India and Europe remains tightly restricted. Of the 10 countries, India has an air bubble arrangement only with Germany, which has emerged as a key transit hub for Indian nationals travelling to Europe.
Some of these countries, such as Switzerland, are accepting visa applications from fully vaccinated people who have been inoculated with doses approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) or EU or their national authority.
Estonia has said in a statement that it recognises both Covishield and Covaxin for full vaccination of Indian travellers but officials have pointed out that travel between the two countries remains highly restricted. A statement issued by the Netherlands government listed Covishield among eight approved vaccines. However, Dutch authorities have listed India among countries and areas considered “very high risk areas where there is a virus variant of concern”.
On Tuesday, German ambassador Walter Lindner tweeted his country recognises a double shot of Covishield as “valid proof of anti-Covid vaccination”, but added that this does not “modify existing travel or visa restrictions for travellers from areas of concern/virus variants areas”.
The Indian side has informed the 27 EU member states that it will follow a policy of reciprocity in recognising Covid-19 vaccines for travel, and exempt EU nationals possessing the “green pass” from mandatory quarantine only if the bloc recognises vaccines being administered in India, such as Covishield and Covaxin.
India also asked EU states to accept Covishield and Covaxin, as the vaccines have been authorised by WHO or the national authority, for Indian nationals travelling to Europe. Indian vaccination certificates can be authenticated by European authorities on the Co-WIN portal, the people said.
The EU has said the EU Digital Covid Certificate or green pass is not a precondition to travel and individual member states have the option to accept vaccines approved by WHO such as Covishield.
Covaxin is yet to be given an emergency use listing by WHO, and its manufacturer, Bharat Biotech, hasn’t approached EMA for regulatory approval. Apart from India, Covaxin has been approved by Guyana, Iran, Mauritius, Mexico, Nepal, Paraguay, the Philippines and Zimbabwe.
The green pass framework, being implemented from July 1, is meant to facilitate free movement within the EU during the pandemic. Under this framework, persons vaccinated with four vaccines approved by the EMA will be exempted from travel restrictions within the EU.
These four vaccines are Comirnaty, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen, Spikevax or the Moderna dose, and Vaxzevria or the European version of the AstraZeneca jab. Serum Institute of India has approached EMA for approving Covishield.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar took up the issue of approving the Covishield for travel to Europe during a meeting on Tuesday with Josep Borell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. The two leaders met on the margins of a meeting of the G20 foreign ministers in Italy.
The 27 EU states have agreed on easing travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers from outside the bloc to give a boost to the tourism sector, which has been hit hard by the pandemic.
India has linked the issue of so-called vaccine passports to vaccine equity, especially in developing countries.