'Vaccine discrimination' threatening billions of lives, WHO warns
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on countries to recognize all its approved vaccines to avoid developing discriminatory travel systems.
Currently several countries and blocs including the European Union are allowing vaccinated travelers to circumvent some COVID-19 restrictions. However, they do not accept all WHO-approved jabs.
The EU's vaccine passport, for instance, only accepts vaccines approved by its own regulator – of which there are currently four. This is despite the fact that within the EU, Hungary has authorized and administered other jabs such as China's Sinovac and Russia's Sputnik V. The EU will also not accept doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in India, although individual countries do have discretion to adapt the rules.
"Any measure that only allows people protected by a subset of WHO-approved vaccines to benefit from the reopening of travel into and with that region would effectively create a two-tier system, further widening the global vaccine divide and exacerbating the inequities we have already seen in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines," a joint statement from the WHO, the Global Vaccines Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Unicef warned. The groups are partners in the COVAX initiative which aims to create a more equitable distribution of vaccines around the world.
China's embassy in the U.S. says it will consider vaccines not yet approved in China – such as Pfizer-BioNtech or Moderna – in assessing travel for the coronavirus health code needed to enter the country.
Countries that do not acknowledge all WHO-approved vaccines "are already undermining confidence in life-saving vaccines that have already been shown to be safe and effective, affecting uptake of vaccines and potentially putting billions of people at risk," the COVAX partners' statement continued.
"At a time when the world is trying to resume trade, commerce and travel, this is counter-effective, both in spirit and outcome."
Vaccines approved by the WHO are those made by: Pfizer-BioNtech; AstraZeneca-Oxford University (including those manufactured under license by the Serum Institute of India); Janssen-Johnson & Johnson; Moderna; Sinopharm; and Sinovac.
Other vaccines, including Sputnik V, remain under review.
[This article was updated on 1/7/21 to specify that the WHO was joined by other COVAX partners for its statement.]