Discriminatorily accepting vaccines dangerous

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A woman checks her EU Digital Covid certificate on her mobilephone at El Prat airport in Barcelona on July 1, 2021. AFP

In a substantial move toward reopening, the EU on Thursday officially inaugurated its Covid-19 passport/certificate for citizens and residents of all member countries, as well as for some travellers from third countries. But such a passport/certificate is only available for those vaccinated with EU-approved vaccines.

Although individual member states reportedly have the flexibility to also accept vaccines that have been authorised at the national level or by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the EU is keeping its doors closed to all those who have been inoculated with vaccines other than the four EU-approved ones, even those that have been approved by WHO for emergency use.

COVAX on Thursday urged all regional, national and local government authorities to fully recognise Covid-19 vaccines “deemed safe and effective by WHO and/or the 11 Stringent Regulatory Authorities (SRAs) approved for Covid-19 vaccines”.

Partial recognition “would effectively create a two-tier system, further widening the global vaccine divide and exacerbating the inequities we have already seen in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines”, it said.

There may or may not be a political agenda involved. But if this is indeed intended to slam the door shut on Chinese and Russian vaccines, it also excluded those developed by India and the Republic of Korea.

Politicisation of vaccines that leads to the differentiated treatment of the vaccines validated by the WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL) and/or the 11 SRAs will greatly undermine the endeavours of COVAX, impede global vaccination progress, and in turn slow the global recovery.

As WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out on Thursday at a news conference, with the highly contagious Delta variant quickly becoming the dominant strain of the novel coronavirus in many countries, “we are in a very dangerous period of the pandemic” and “no country is out of the woods yet”.

With Ghebreyesus’ warning the Delta variant has been detected in at least 98 countries, WHO experts noticed that, along with Alpha and Beta, Delta is fuelling an aggressive third wave across Africa.

Openly discriminating against those who use vaccines other than those it gives the green light to is morally problematic. Many of those inoculated with non-EU-approved vaccines simply had no access to those approved by the EU. It is also politically unsound. It will certainly acerbate the political divide some are trying to create using the pandemic, and do greater damage to global public health in the long term. And the EU practice is professionally unsound as the WHO/SRAs’ approvals were based on serious, meticulous scientific scrutiny.

It merits a special mention that, as the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, China has provided vaccines to nearly 100 countries, covering a considerable portion of the global population, and there is no credible proof the vaccines they endorsed are unsafe or ineffective.