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Covax wants equivalence for WHO-approved Covid vaccines

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A worker handles boxes of Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines, part of the the Covax programme, which aims to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccinations, after they arrived by plane at the Ivato International Airport in Antananarivo, Madagascar, on May 8, 2021. (Photo by Mamyrael / AFP)

The Covid vaccine facility Covax urged governments Thursday to consider equally all people inoculated with WHO-approved products to avoid creating a two-tiered travel and trade regime.

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Covax spoke out after an EU-wide Covid certificate for easier travel took effect that recognises four vaccines but not others, notably the Covishield version of AstraZeneca’s jab which is widely used in Africa.

The European Medicines Agency has authorised vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

But the European Medicines Agency estimates that differences in how Covishield is manufactured in India prevent it from qualifying for an EU seal of approval.

That means that EU countries along with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland will not grant the same travel access to those who have received the Covishield jab, notably people who live in Africa.

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Covax, which was set up to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, particularly to low-income countries, said that discriminated against them.

“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,” a statement said.

That would widen “the global vaccine divide” and exacerbate “inequities we have already seen in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines,” it added.

Covax has struggled to get donation-funded doses to poorer countries, and it argued that a rejection of Covishield would make it harder to convince people to become inoculated.

“It would negatively impact the growth of economies that are already suffering the most,” the statement added.

In addition to the four EU-approved vaccines, the WHO has given emergency authorisations to two Chinese products, Sinovac and Sinopharm.

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