In the midst of the virulent second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, worsened further by shortages of vaccines, hospital beds and emergency medicines, a new challenge is emerging now concerning the indigenously-developed Covaxin. One of the mainstays of India’s vaccination programme, it has, however, not been included in the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL). As a result, people who have been fully vaccinated by both doses of Covaxin might not be allowed to travel internationally because it doesn’t figure among the list of approved vaccines in many countries. Those wanting to get back to the Gulf countries to resume their jobs will be hit hard because none of the countries in the region, a key hub for Indian migrant workers, approves of Covaxin. Similarly, uncertainty stares at the thousands of students making plans to travel to countries like the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom to pursue higher education. The fall season for Undergraduate and Postgraduate programmes in these countries usually start during August-September. There are fears that even the fully vaccinated people may not be able to travel to these countries, leading to severe disruptions. The Centre must step in and address these concerns immediately. The process for getting the relevant approvals for the indigenous vaccine needs to be expedited to avoid hardships for millions of people. Though Covaxin is being administered extensively across India, it has not yet been approved by the major nations to which Indians frequently travel, be it for education or work.
As per the current data, less than 10 nations have officially approved Covaxin while most countries recognise Covishield as the required vaccine for passengers coming from India. It must be pointed out that Covaxin is not a subject of trials anywhere outside India. No wonder that the Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dr Ausaf Sayeed has reportedly advised the NRIs to opt for Covishield since it had been approved by Saudi authorities. With many countries now resorting to “vaccine passports”, incoming passengers are checked for proof of Covid-19 vaccinations failing which they have to undergo mandatory hotel quarantines for a minimum of two weeks straight from the airport. This has triggered panic among many Indians scheduled to travel abroad, including students seeking overseas admissions and workers who already have job commitments in other countries. The idea of vaccine passports for travellers has been opposed by many because it creates a sense of inequality among international travellers. One wonders what would happen if countries started insisting that passengers should have been inoculated by only those vaccines approved by them. There is a need for the nations to come together and create a common vaccine list to make international travel hassle-free.
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