In a case of much back and forth, the UK government claims it has managed to get the authorities of Malta to permit travellers from Britain who have been vaccinated with doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine made in India.
The European Union (EU) country was in the headlines as a couple told The Daily Telegraph that they were prevented from boarding a plane to visit their son in Malta because their batch of the vaccines was made in India.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was confronted about the issue and he stressed that Malta was “not right” to block travel as it was the same product as the one produced in the UK.
“The Maltese authorities have amended their travel advice so anyone who has an Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in the UK (regardless of manufacture location) is able to travel without being turned away– with all vaccines having gone through rigorous safety and quality checks,” Shapps announced on Twitter soon after on Wednesday.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is being produced and administered in India as Covishield and in the UK as Vaxzevria, both of which are authorised as part of the National Health Service (NHS) COVID vaccination travel pass regime.
“All AstraZeneca vaccines given in the UK are the same product and appear on the NHS Covid Pass as Vaxzevria. The European Medicines Agency has authorised this vaccine and we’re confident travel will not be affected,” a spokesperson for the UK Department of Health and Social Care said.
However, there have been some lingering issues related to the 5 million India-made doses of the vaccines supplied to the UK in March. Earlier in July, the UK’s medicines regulator had shared relevant data with its counterpart in the EU to facilitate the clearance of Covishield.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had approved the Serum Institute of India (SII) produced vaccines, but the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is yet to give its nod for the region’s so-called vaccine passport for travel.
It has led to concerns that Indians vaccinated with Covishield and thousands in Britain who received the India imported jabs face hurdles when travelling to the EU.
“The EMA is correct in asking us to apply, which we have through AstraZeneca a month ago, and that process has to take its time. In a month, we are confident the EMA will approve Covishield. There is no reason not to as it is based on AstraZeneca data and our product is identical to AstraZeneca, more or less,” SII CEO Adar Poonawalla said at the India Global Forum recently.
“They [SII] are backed by the world’s most highly regarded regulator, the UK’s MHRA [Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency], which makes them one of the safest, best and largest vaccine manufacturers in the world,” UK Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi had said at the same event.
Individually, several EU member states have chosen to give the green light to the India-made jabs at a country-level.
Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), noted on Twitter that 15 countries in the EU now recognise Covishield for travel.