Vaccine barriers

| Updated on September 22, 2021

The UK’s decision on entry of fully vaccinated Indians into its territory is baffling, to say the least

The United Kingdom has needlessly kicked up a row with India. It first left out Covishield, UK-based AstraZeneca’s own vaccine manufactured here by Serum Institute of India, from its list of acceptable vaccines — a move that would have forced Indians to undergo 10 days quarantine upon arrival. After protests from India including a threat of “retaliatory action”, the UK added Covishield to the approved list on Wednesday only to come up with another googly. Travellers from India will still have to quarantine themselves because the UK has “issues” with India’s vaccine certification. It is baffling as to why India’s CoWin certification should be questioned. The UK has been in talks with India’s National Health Authority (NHA), which runs the CoWin app, to understand the certification process and the CEO of NHA RS Sharma says that the technical discussions have ended. It is strange that the UK has a problem with traceable digital certificates with an in-built QR code from a transparent app but is willing to accept hand-written vaccine certificates from other developed countries.

Covid cases, deaths and positivity rates have perceptibly dipped over the last three months, with more than half of India’s population having been vaccinated once. There is little reason to disbelieve this. If the supplies are established (at over 200 million a month and rising) and vaccine hesitancy neither less nor more than elsewhere in the world, why should there be doubts over the numbers vaccinated? India is set to once again export to the Covax facility by the end of this calendar year. It would not do so at the expense of its people. The UK’s categorisation of countries into red, amber and green — in descending order of threat with respect to Covid — has been relaxed, with the amber and green lists being done away with after October 4. Oddly enough, Pakistan and Bangladesh will be off the red list from October 4, which implies that travellers from those countries will not have to go through the quarantine drill, unlike the Indians. A rigorous RT-PCR testing norm will be applicable instead. The UK’s move will hurt trade in goods and services between it and countries such as India from which it perceives a threat. It is not just India that is on the restricted list but also countries in Africa and South America.

The UK’s decisions, in a way, reflect the hypocrisy of the developed world in the matter of Covid vaccines. After cornering available vaccine supplies for their own populations and refusing to share them with the less developed countries, the rich countries now seek to bar entry of people from these very countries at their borders. The WHO has observed: “Only 20 per cent of people in low- and lower-middle-income countries have received a first dose of vaccine compared to 80 per cent in high-and upper-middle income countries.” It is time that the developed world focusses on reaching vaccines to the less-developed countries. They can borrow a leaf from India which has just announced resumption of its Vaccine Maitri programme.

Published on September 22, 2021

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