So the WHO has been forced to make an intervention - ideally, you would hope they don't need to get involved - to infuse some much-needed sense into the discussion around vaccine passports, that are of course very real by now. As air travel eases back and countries open up, thanks to critical thresholds being met in the worldwide drive to vaccinate their populations, the European Union in May made the peculiar announcement that it would only recognise people as vaccinated if they had received shots licensed by the European Medicines Agency. They would also leave it to the individual countries, ultimately, if they wish to let in travellers who received other vaccines, including Russia's Sputnik V.
Which meant as things stood, unless you were able to get two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or AstraZeneca vaccines, or the Johnson and Johnson vaccine's single shot, along with some documentation to prove that you did (I.e. your vaccine passport), they wouldn't let you in. Now given that a growing number of countries around the world are increasingly turning to the two Chinese-made vaccines, or Sputnik V - and you needn't look far, with Bangladesh being a prime example of one such nation - it was obvious that this would effectively block out a vast swathe of the world's population. Shockingly, the EU even specified that AstraZeneca shots manufactured under a licensing agreement by the Serum Institute of India would not make the cut. Our slide to vaccine apartheid - discrimination on the basis of which vaccine you got, with some clear advantages accruing if you managed to get the 'right' one, and disadvantages if you didn't -was seemingly complete at that point.
Now when this was all first coming out, as a Bangladeshi you're probably thinking that's Europe's doors shut for a good 2-3 years, since Serum's version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot - branded as Covishield - is just about your best bet. Even that ran into trouble soon enough, and now we were only really looking at the Russians and our Chinese friends, hoping and praying that at least one of them would come through. A deal has apparently been agreed now, and some 15 million shots of the Sinovac vaccine, that uses the traditional inoculated virus platform to do the job, will be our lot for the next three months at least. Meanwhile, the EU drug regulator is still said to be 'considering' licensing the Sinovac vaccine, but there is no timeline on a decision. Given the clear and present tensions that have typified relations between China and the Western bloc in recent times, you simply cannot count on a swift and amicable resolution.
That is why it is important that the EU heeds the WHO statement this week. I find it worthy to end with its most relevant bit: "Any measure that only allows people protected by a subset of WHO-approved vaccines to benefit from the reopening of travel ... would effectively create a two-tier system, further widening the global vaccine divide and exacerbating the inequities we have already seen."
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