EU’s vaccine travel pass is highly discriminatory towards low-income countries

Source: Indian Express

Relevance: Implications of Green Pass scheme

Synopsis: Green Pass scheme is discriminatory towards low income countries. Issues involved and way forward.

Background

In a recent guideline, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended its member states not to seek proof of Covid-19 vaccination or recovery as a mandatory condition for entry to or exit from a country. In this direction, many countries like China and Israel have introduced vaccine certificates that ease the process of entering and traveling across the destination country for vaccinated travelers.

Though these certificates can be looked at from the lens of trade facilitation, they can potentially act as a trade barrier if they encourage discriminatory treatment.

The recent and the most contentious issue in this regard is the European Union’s “Green Pass” scheme.

Also Read: What is EU’s Green Pass Scheme? – Explained
Issues with Green Pass Scheme

Discriminatory in nature

The EU’s approach creates a divide between low and high-income countries due to the following reasons:

  • The difference in the vaccination rates across the globe: Vaccine doses administered per 100 people are 1.4 for low-income countries as compared to 93.2 for high-income countries. This makes travelers from low-income countries ineligible to avail these certificates.
  • Type of vaccines administered in a country: As the Green Pass scheme includes only four selected vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), it makes travellers from countries administering alternate vaccines ineligible for certification.
    • Discrimination faced by Indian citizens: Initially, the policy did not allow AstraZeneca’s Indian-manufactured vaccine, Covishield. Due to the immense pressure, 16 EU countries have now accepted Covishield. However, despite this inclusion, travel rules vary across the region and in some cases, are still discriminatory — for instance, travellers from India vaccinated with Covishield still need to quarantine in the Netherlands, as India is considered a high-risk country. The only relief for them is the removal of any possible restriction on their movement within the destination country.

Against COVAX policy

It goes against the policy of COVAX, which has stated that “any measure that only allows people protected by a subset of WHO-approved vaccines to benefit from the re-opening of travel into and with that region would effectively create a two-tier system… (and) would negatively impact the growth of economies that are already suffering the most”.

Indirect cost burden

Countries not administering any of the EMA-approved are mostly low and middle-income countries, including India. Along with African and South Asian regions, this population also includes South East Asian countries. Nationals from many of these countries also serve in the hospitality industries in countries across the world, including Europe.

With these exclusion criteria, an indirect cost burden is put on their domestic service sectors that are already suffering due to the pandemic.

Against Globalization

With such discriminatory intervention, the EU policy also goes against the globalization policy of collective welfare.

Suggestions

To achieve the desired goal, countries need to cooperate on vaccine production to accelerate the global vaccination process.

The COVID vaccine supply chain can involve more than 100 components, and it is important to strengthen the global supply chain. This makes lifting trade barriers on raw materials for vaccine production critical.

Steps taken

COVID vaccine makers across the world have created a platform, led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, to connect with key raw material suppliers needed for boosting production.

Also, in a recent declaration, WTO members have agreed to review and eliminate unnecessary existing export restrictions on essential medical goods needed to combat the pandemic

 

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