The WHO coming across as a silent bystander to the practice of vaccine racism is unfortunate.
A series of bizarre policy moves by the UK government — refusing to recognise Covishield as a legitimate Covid-19 vaccine only to backtrack later following widespread furore and then raising questions over India’s vaccination certificate process — smacks of a racist streak. The embarrassing saga began with the announcement of a new set of rules for foreign travellers. According to these rules, Indians who have received both doses of the Covishield vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), will be considered unvaccinated and will have to undergo self-isolation for 10 days. Within a day, it realised the folly and included Covishield in the revised list of approved vaccines after India warned of reciprocal measures. However, Indians travelling to the UK will still be required to be quarantined because the British government has no faith in the vaccination certificates issued by India. While the initial move of excluding Covishield from the list of approved vaccines, despite it being identical to the AstraZeneca vaccine used for the mass inoculation drive in the UK, is anti-science, raising doubts over India’s due process of certification amounts to being racist and discriminatory. The vaccine certification in India is a centralised national system managed through the CoWIN app and portal. Covishield was developed by researchers at the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and already has emergency use approval (EUA) status from the World Health Organization. It must be pointed out that 88% of India’s eligible population has been vaccinated with Covishield.
Amusing as it may sound, the British government’s order says that a person vaccinated in countries like the UAE, India, Turkey, Jordan, Thailand, Russia, or the continents of Africa and South America, will be considered as unvaccinated and will have to undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine upon their arrival. However, travellers from Australia, Bahrain, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and South Korea, who have been vaccinated using the UK-made AstraZeneca vaccine for their inoculation programme, have been excluded from the list. Looking at such blatantly discriminatory policies, one wonders whether the former colonial power is still unable to shake off the hangover of the past. India has rightly hit back at the UK order in strong terms, reserving its right to take reciprocal measures. The decision is all the more surprising considering that the Serum Institute had supplied five million doses of Covishield to Britain for inoculating its citizens. The Centre must now respond appropriately and ensure that there is no inconvenience faced by any Indian travelling to the UK. Unfortunately, the WHO comes across as a silent bystander to the practice of vaccine racism. It is shocking why countries around the world are unable to come together on uniform regulatory quality standards for vaccine trials and travel passports.
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