NEW DELHI — A day after India’s external affairs minister, Subramanyam Jaishankar, said he had asked the European Union to accept Covid-19 vaccines for Indian nationals traveling to Europe, several European Union countries allowed the Serum Institute of India-manufactured Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine. 

Slovenia, Germany, Austria, Greece, Estonia, Ireland, Iceland, and Spain confirmed accepting Covishield for travel entry. Switzerland has also allowed Covishield for the Schengen state.

This comes after reports that travelers vaccinated with Covishield, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India, may not be eligible for the European Union’s ‘Green Pass.’

Estonia has confirmed that it will recognize all the vaccines authorized by the government of India for the travel of Indians to Estonia.

Jaishankar met Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and discussed vaccine production and access. He also took up ‘Covishield’ authorization for travel to Europe.

India requested EU member states to individually consider extending the exemption to those who have taken Covishield and Covaxin and said it would institute a reciprocal policy to recognize the EU Digital Covid Certificate.

The 27-member European bloc introduces the EU Digital Covid Certificate framework to facilitate safe free movement during the Covid pandemic, and it will come into effect from July 1.

Under this framework, persons vaccinated with vaccines authorized by the European Medicines Agency will be exempted from travel restrictions within the EU, sources said, adding that individual member states have the flexibility also to accept vaccines that have been authorized at the national level or by the World Health Organization.

An EU official said the European Medicines Agency had not received any request for approval for Covishield.

“The European Medicines Agency is absolutely correct in asking us to apply, which we have through AstraZeneca, our partners, a month ago, and that process has to take its time,” said Adar Poonawala, chief of Serum Institute of India. 

“Even the UK MHRA, WHO took its time, and we have applied to the European Medicines Agency. We are quite confident that in a month European Medicines Agency will approve Covishield. There is no reason why not to because it is based on AstraZeneca data, and our product is identical to AstraZeneca more or less, and WHO, UK MHRA, has approved it. So it’s just a matter of time. It is not really going to hinder anything,” he said.

EU Ambassador to India, Ugo Astuto, has clarified that there is no ban in the European Union on the Covishield vaccine. The EU Ambassador said that a new system had been put in place of the digital Covid certificate.

When asked about the ‘Vaxzervria’ vaccine, also developed by AstraZeneca, permitted in the EU and not Covishield, he said every approval process must be conducted on its merit.

“These are medical sensitivities. Medical experts will be better placed to respond,” said Astuto. 

“Every approval process of vaccine must be conducted on its merit. No matter how close the process is, vaccines are biological products, so even a tiny difference in manufacturing conditions can result in differences. So each product needs to undergo its scrutiny process.”

“Based on what I read, status from European Medicines Agency, they say they have not received a request for approval of Covishield. I am sure when they receive they will process it based on their internal procedures. I think European Medicines Agency cannot start any procedure on its own if it has not received a request.”

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Saptak Datta)

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