English travellers barred from EU flight after Covishield vaccine ban

AstraZeneca doses approved in India are not approved by the European Medicines Agency

Aircraft grounded due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including planes operated by TUI are pictured on the apron at Manchester Airport in Manchester, north west England on May 1, 2020. - Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair said on Friday it planned to axe 3,000 pilot and cabin crew jobs, or 15 percent of staff, with air transport paralysed by coronavirus. Dublin-based Ryanair added in a statement that most of its flights would remain grounded until at least July and predicted it would take until summer 2022 at the earliest before passenger demand recovers. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP)

British travellers vaccinated in the UK were denied a holiday to Malta because they received the Indian-made version of the AstraZeneca shot.

Steve and Glenda Hardy were stopped at a UK airport because their doses of the shot were not made at an EU-approved manufacturing site.

The vaccine is the same one used in Europe but has not been authorised by the EU, triggering an outcry from developing countries.

Doses of the Indian-made shot, known as Covishield, have been shipped around the world under the Covax scheme – and also exported to Britain.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was confident the technicality would not pose a problem for British travellers.

But Mr and Mrs Hardy, aged 64 and 63, were denied the chance to see their son for the first time since he moved to Malta a year ago.

“We were just gutted,” Mrs Hardy told the Daily Telegraph after the couple were turned back at Manchester Airport in north-west England.

“We thought we’d covered ourselves – we paid for PCR tests, downloaded the NHS app and printed off the letter – but we fell at the final hurdle.”

Mrs Hardy said that at least three others were turned away from the flight after the airline checked the batch numbers of their vaccines.

She said she felt let down by the UK government following Mr Johnson’s promise that it would not be a problem.

The UK’s Department of Health said this month that all AstraZeneca vaccines would appear identically on the digital app.

But the batch number is displayed on the app. The batches 4120Z001, 4120Z002 and 4120Z003 were manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.

Prof Adam Finn, a member of the UK government’s vaccine committee, said "people should be reassured who’ve received these batches that they’ve received exactly the same stuff".

On 24 February 2021, staff unloads the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the COVAX Facility at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana's capital. 

The shipment with 600 doses of the vaccine also represents the beginning of what should be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history. The COVAX Facility plans to deliver close to 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines this year. This is an unprecedented global effort to make sure all citizens have access to vaccines.
Anne-Claire Dufay UNICEF UNICEF Representative in Ghana and WHO country representative Francis Kasolo said in a joint statement:
After a year of disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 80,700 Ghanaians getting infected with the virus and over 580 lost lives, the path to recovery for the people of Ghana can finally begin.

"This is a momentous occasion, as the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines into Ghana is critical in bringing the pandemic to an end," 

These 600,000 COVAX vaccines are part of an initial tranche of deliveries of the AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccine licensed to the Serum Institute of India, which represent part of the first wave of COVID vaccines headed to several low and middle-income countries.
“The shipments also represent the beginning of what should be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history. The COVAX Facility plans to deliver close to 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines this year. This is an unprecedented global effort to make sure all citizens have access to vaccines.
“We are pleased that Ghana has become the first country to receive the COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility. We congratulate the Government of Ghana – especially the Ministry of Health, Ghana Health Service, and Ministry of Information - for its relentless efforts to protect the population. As part of the UN Country Team in Ghana, UNICEF and WHO reiterate our commitment to support the vaccination campaign and contain the spread

Brussels blames the controversy on the Serum Institute’s failure to submit a separate application for its vaccine.

But critics say the EU’s stance risks creating a two-tier system and fostering anger in developing countries.

The EU is a major donor to Covax, which has distributed millions of AstraZeneca doses that were made in India under the brand name Covishield.

The vaccine is listed for emergency use by the World Health Organisation, but is yet to be authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The EMA approved the AstraZeneca shot in January but says EU inspectors need to approve the manufacturing sites in India before Covishield is cleared.

It means that EU countries are not obliged to accept travellers vaccinated with Covishield, although individual governments may choose to do so.

While some countries say they will accept Covishield, Malta is one of about a dozen nations yet to recognise it.

Updated: July 14th 2021, 12:17 PM
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