The EU is starting to roll out its Digital COVID Certificate, a proof of COVID-19 vaccination program that could one day allow double-dosed Canadians to sip wine at a French vineyard without having to adhere to the piles of pandemic-related rules that exist now.
There’s just one problem: not all Canadian-approved COVID-19 vaccines are currently recognized by the program.
Canada has approved all the same vaccines as the European Union: Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), the latter of which hasn’t been distributed to date.
However, while Canada has doled out both the European-made version of the AstraZeneca jab and its Indian-made counterpart – known as Covishield – Brussels has only approved the European-made version.
That means Canadians who received at least one dose of the Covishield vaccine might find themselves running into a roadblock as they try to book a trip to the E.U., should Europe’s internal passport program be extended to international travellers.
“My understanding is that the two AstraZeneca manufactured vaccines, European Union and India, are biologically identical,” said Kerry Bowman, a professor of bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto.
“So what we’ve got is a bureaucratic situation here that could well indeed stand in the way of people’s freedom of travel.”
In Canada, 1.6 million people have received a jab of the European-made version of AstraZeneca, according to the government’s figures. But another 272,000 people have been given at least one dose of the Covishield vaccine – leaving the future of their potential EU travel plans in limbo.
“This is one of the great problems with vaccine passports, is that we don’t have a great global infrastructure on how these things are going to be managed — and so decisions are being made in different places,” Bowman said.
Part of the problem comes from AstraZeneca itself, according to the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The company hasn’t actually applied to have the European regulator approve its Covishield shot.
“Should we receive a marketing authorization application for Covishield or should any change to the approved manufacturing sites for (AstraZeneca’s vaccine) be approved, we would communicate about it,” said a spokesperson for the EMA in an email sent to Global News.
Given that the EU has already approved the European-made jab, it’s unlikely they’d reject the version made in India, according to experts. That’s because there are no significant differences between the European-made and Indian-made AstraZeneca vaccines.
“You do have to go through this very rigorous quality control process where you are assured that the same process was used and that the vaccine that you have at the end of your process is as good as the one that’s coming from another plant,” said Dr. Joanne Langley, a vaccine researcher with the Canadian Center for Vaccinology.
“If you are assured that all the quality control processes are in place and you’re using the same methods, the same source materials, you would think that it should be as effective from one plant to another.”
And while the current Digital COVID Certificate in the EU only applies to internal travel, the door remains open for member states to exercise a degree of autonomy when it comes to who they allow within their borders.
EU states “could accept vaccination certificates from non-EU countries,” according to an EU spokesperson, provided the certificates contain the minimum required data and can be properly verified.
But until this Covishield oversight is remedied, it’s not only Canadians who could find themselves stumbling over this bureaucratic hurdle to European travel.
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