A Nigerian doctor whose two doses of an Indian-made vaccine could deny him a holiday to Europe said the row over the shot risks fostering vaccine conspiracy theories in Africa.
Ifeanyi Nsofor is one of millions of people vaccinated with Covishield, a version of the AstraZeneca shot which is manufactured in India and not authorised in the EU.
The vaccine’s widespread use in the international Covax scheme has led to accusations that wealthy countries are discriminating against poorer nations.
Mr Nsofor said it would give rise to claims that the West was handing out second-rate vaccines to developing countries.
“We’re grateful to the EU that they funded Covax, but now they are essentially discriminating against a vaccine that they actively funded and promoted,” Mr Nsofor told the Associated Press.
“This will just give room to all kinds of conspiracy theories that the vaccines we’re getting in Africa are not as good as the ones they have for themselves in the West.”
Known as Covishield, the Indian-made vaccine is the same as the one used in Europe and is listed for emergency use by the World Health Organisation.
But it has not been approved by EU regulators after what Brussels said was a failure by the Indian manufacturers to submit an application earlier in the year.
The European Medicines Agency says that even tiny differences in manufacturing conditions can result in changes in the final product and that it needs to inspect the Indian factories.
It means that EU countries are not obliged to accept travellers vaccinated with Covishield, although individual governments may choose to do so.
Mr Nsofor hoped to take his family to European destinations such as Paris and Salzburg after a tough year of working during the pandemic.
He said the realisation that he could be barred from Europe was a “rude awakening”.
The family is still deciding where to take its summer holiday and is leaning towards Singapore or East Africa.
“I didn’t realise there were so many layers to vaccine inequity,” Mr Nsofor said.
Adar Poonawalla, chief executive of the Serum Institute of India which produces Covishield, said many Indians have had problems reaching the EU.
While some EU countries say they will accept Covishield, India’s government said that a dozen members of the bloc, including France and Italy, have yet to recognise the shot.
Mesfin Teklu Tessema, director of health at the International Rescue Committee, said a refusal to recognise Covishield was unscientific.
“Vaccines that have met WHO’s threshold should be accepted,” he said. “Otherwise it looks like there’s an element of racism here.”