Britons with Indian-made AstraZeneca vaccine face extra EU travel hurdle
British travellers hoping to visit Europe this summer face an extra hurdle as it emerged that those vaccinated with Indian-manufactured AstraZeneca jabs would not automatically skip quarantine.
Under the EU vaccine passport scheme, people given the AstraZeneca jab produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII) would not automatically avoid quarantine and mandatory testing when travelling in Europe.
The SII jab, known as Covishield, offers the same protection as the British-made one, but the company has not sought approval from the European Medicines Agency.
The EU vaccine passport, launched on Thursday to ease travel in the 30-country European Economic Area, only recognises jabs approved by the European regulator. Also known as the EU digital Covid certificate, it enables travellers to prove they have been fully vaccinated, recently tested negative or fully recovered from the virus.
The certificate – an app storing individual data – should mean travellers can avoid quarantine or tests when travelling through 27 EU countries, plus Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland.
However, EU governments can flex the rules, by allowing travellers with vaccines approved by the World Health Organization to use the passport. The WHO has listed Covishield, so travellers with this vaccine could benefit from the EU passport if a member state uses the longer list of WHO-approved vaccines.
The restrictions are an extra headache for British travellers, who already face tight limits and a hotch-potch of fast-changing rules to enter the European Union.
The British government is in talks with Brussels on EU-wide recognition of the NHS Covid pass, which also shows proof of vaccination, a negative Covid test or recovery. Some member states, such as Greece or Spain, already accept the NHS app.
Even if those talks succeed, EU member states would still need to add the UK to a travel green list.
The UK has not been added to the EU travel green list – a non-binding recommendation to allow travel – because of fears about the surge in cases of the Delta variant.
The EU this week added 10 countries to the list, including Azerbaijan, Canada and Saudi Arabia, but not the UK.
Despite efforts to agree common EU rules on travel, member states remain in charge of controlling their borders. Southern European countries that are heavily dependent on tourism, such as Greece and Spain, have rejected calls from the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, for all British tourists to be quarantined on arrival. Portugal has hinted it could reverse its decision on quarantine-free breaks for British holidaymakers.
A UK government spokesperson said the NHS app would be “a key service” as international travel was reopened and hinted at a possible mechanism to ease the Covishield issue.
“All AstraZeneca vaccines given in the UK are the same product and appear on the NHS Covid pass as Vaxzevria,” he said.
Prof Adam Finn, from the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said people should not be concerned about receiving doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in India. The issue with the EU was “an administrative hurdle”, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“The most important part of this is that people who have received these batches should be reassured that they have received exactly the same stuff as people who have received other batches made elsewhere,” he said.
“This is an administrative hurdle that needs to be straightened out but people should not be concerned that they are in some way less well protected. We’re in the early days of this new world of needed vaccine passports and there are lots of aspects of this that are still being sorted out for the first time.
“But it’s clearly, ultimately not in anyone’s interest, including the European Union, to create hurdles that don’t need to be there.”
The Telegraph said the jabs excluded by the EU scheme had the batch numbers 4120Z001, 4120Z002, 4120Z003.