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Vaccine geopolitics to affect travel for low income countries

HEALTH & SCIENCEBy MERCY KAHENDA | Wed,Jun 30 2021 13:49:04 EAT
By MERCY KAHENDA | Wed,Jun 30 2021 13:49:04 EAT

 A nurse vaccinates a person with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Kenyans are among citizens from low-income countries who received Oxford/AstraZeneca jab manufactured in India, who might be restricted from travelling to European Union Member States.

This follows the application of the EU Digital Covid-19 certificate green pass, which gives free travel access to vaccines that have received EU-wide marketing authorisation.

African Union Commission and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), have condemned the move and termed it as 'discriminatory'.

The green pass included Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine produced and authorised in Europe (Vaxzervria), but the same formulation of the vaccine (Covishield) produced in India, by the Serum Institute of India (SII), is excluded.

In a statement, the commission and Africa CDC noted under the regulations, persons who received Covishield, despite being able to demonstrate proof of vaccination, will be subjected to public health regulations.

Restrictions include limitations of movement and testing requirements, with considerable administrative and financial implications.

The step is ironic, considering EU has been supporting Covax contributions to AU Member States' vaccination program.

Under the new regulations, granting of the green pass applies, only to vaccines that have received EU-wide marketing authorisation.

“The express goal for the Serum Institute of India production is to serve India and lower-income countries, the SII may not apply for EU-wide market authorization, meaning that the inequalities in access to “Green Passes” created by this approach would persist indefinitely,” reads AU commission and Africa CDC statement.

In addition, the Africa CDC and commission said Covishield vaccine, alongside the versions of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine produced by AstraZeneca-SKBio (Republic of Korea), was one of the first available candidates considered safe and efficacious through the World Health Organization’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL) process.

Both candidates received approval as early as 15 February 2021.

The commission and the union have pleaded with the EU to withdraw the policies, noting the goal of rolling out vaccination through Covax facility is to provide to lower-income countries and make the global population safe from the coronavirus pandemic.

“The African Union and Africa CDC, therefore, urge the EU Commission to consider increasing mandatory access to those vaccines deemed suitable for global rollout through the EU-supported COVAX Facility,” added the statement.

Through this facility – led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, WHO and CEPI – UNICEF are working with manufacturers and partners on the procurement of COVID-19 vaccine doses, as well as freight, logistics and storage, in the fight against the global pandemic.

The Kenya government had ordered 24 million doses of the vaccine, through Covax facility, but has only received a total of 1.02 million in addition to 100,000 doses given in kind, by the India government.

Exportation of the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford developed ChAdOx (AZD1222) was suspended in March by the Indian government, following high rate of infections in the country.

Last week, the country received an additional 358,700 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine donated by Denmark.

Prof Matilu Mwau, a virologist, and deputy director, Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), told The Standard that there is no reason from a scientific view, which directed the move by the EU.

“The vaccines are the same,” said Prof Mwau.

According to him, the move is discriminatory and might affect the fight against the virus that continues to ravage the globe.

“Reasons provided by EU are not scientific. It is possible it is purely an economic fight,” said Prof Mwau.

Last week, Dr Willis Akhwale, the chair of the Covid-19 Vaccine Taskforce, said the matter of vaccine certificate should be addressed diplomatically.

He noted Kenyans might be inconvenienced if some countries don't recognise the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, manufactured by SII.

“A redress is being made, and it is a diplomatic issue which may be better handled diplomatically,” said Akhwale.

Two weeks ago, Africa CDC director, Dr John Nkengasong, noted Africa is experiencing a vaccine gap with only 2 per cent of the population vaccinated.

The continent was targeting to vaccinate 60 per cent of its 1.3 billion population, representing 780 million people by 2022.

Current data reveals that at least 340 million people in the continent have been vaccinated, through the support of Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) facility.

Dr Nkengasong noted the number of vaccines available to Africa represents a small portion of the global supply and the financial costs to purchase, deliver, and administer vaccines remain significant.

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