Travel pass

EU vaccine pass highly discriminates against low-income countries

Travel has been hit hard due to the Covid-19 pandemic and consequent restrictions on cross-border movement across the world. There was a 42-47% drop in the total number of global passengers in 2021 compared to 2019. For India, while the number of passengers traveling by air increased after the first wave, it significantly increased. declined when the second wave hit. For June 2021, the average daily departures were 1,100, higher than 700 in June 2020, but still significantly lower than 2,000 in April 2021.

Travel becomes an important medium for the trade in services, especially when consumers or businesses use a service in another country. It is therefore necessary to relaunch travel and offer them favorable and safe conditions.

The introduction of Covid-19 vaccines has opened up opportunities to help jumpstart travel. However, it is important to carefully design policies that help boost demand for travel. In a recent directive, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended its member states not to seek proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19 as a mandatory condition for entering or leaving a country. According to the agency, those vaccinated may be exempt from testing and quarantine requirements. In this direction, many countries like China and Israel have introduced vaccination certificates that facilitate the process of entry and travel through the destination country for vaccinated travelers.

While these certificates can be viewed from a trade facilitation perspective, they can potentially constitute a trade barrier if they encourage discriminatory treatment. The recent and most controversial issue in this regard is the European Union’s “Green Pass” scheme. Through this vaccine certificate, the European Commission intends to remove travel restrictions such as entry bans, quarantine requirements and tests. The EU has only listed four vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for the pass: Comirnaty from Pfizer-BioNTech, Spikevax from Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaxzevria and Janssen from Johnson & Johnson.

This approach creates a schism between low and high income countries and the primary source of this divide is the difference in immunization rates across the world. The doses of vaccine administered per 100 people are 1.4 for low-income countries compared to 93.2 for high-income countries. This makes travelers from low-income countries ineligible to avail these certificates.

The second source of discrimination is based on the type of vaccines administered in a country. As the Green Pass program includes only four selected vaccines approved by the EMA, it makes travelers from countries administering alternative vaccines ineligible for certification. When it was first launched, the policy did not even allow the vaccine made in India by AstraZeneca, Covishield. Due to the huge setback, 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 example Indian travelers vaccinated with Covishield must still be quarantined in the Netherlands as India is considered a high risk country. The only relief for them is the removal of any possible restrictions on their movement within the country of destination.

This flies in the face of the policy of COVAX, which has categorically stated that “any measure that only allows people protected by a subset of WHO-approved vaccines to benefit from the reopening of travel to and with this region. would effectively create a system… (and) would have a negative impact on the growth of the economies that are already suffering the most ”.

According to estimates based on information from WHO, countries that do not administer any of the vaccines approved by the EMA represent at least 14% of the vaccinated population. These are mostly found in low and middle income countries, including India. Besides the regions of Africa and Southeast Asia, this population also includes the countries of Southeast Asia. Nationals of many of these countries also serve in hospitality industries in countries across the world, including Europe. With these exclusion criteria, a burden of indirect costs is imposed on their domestic service sectors which are already shaken by the pandemic.

With such discriminatory intervention, EU policy does not go well with the globalization policy of collective welfare. To achieve the desired goal, countries must cooperate on vaccine production to speed up the global immunization process. The Covid vaccine supply chain may involve more than 100 components and it is important to strengthen the global supply chain. This makes the removal of trade barriers on raw materials for vaccine production crucial.

There is some political movement in this direction. Covid vaccine makers around the world have created a platform, led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, to connect with major suppliers of raw materials needed to increase production. Additionally, in a recent statement, WTO members agreed to review and eliminate unnecessary existing export restrictions on essential medical products needed to fight the pandemic. The two bodies concerned, the WHO and the WTO, should also work together to determine these selective criteria for international movements.

This column first appeared in the print edition on July 31, 2021 under the title “Grounded by bias”. The author is an associate researcher at the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER). Views are personal


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