But most of the reports have been devoted to evaluating their relative efficacies, particularly against the many variants that are now prevalent in India and around the globe. Suddenly, however, those who have been administered Covaxin find themselves in something of a spot, unable to avail of permission to travel to many countries, including the US and those in Europe. The plight of students who have received admissions abroad find themselves smack-dab in the middle of this problem.
There have been reports of US universities demanding that Covaxin-administered students revaccinate with an approved vaccine. This is not possible to get done on demand in a country that has a fairly stringent protocol for vaccine roll-out and no provision for revaccination. It is important to underline here that Covaxin is not being singled out – students administered with Russia’s Sputnik and Chinese vaccines have also faced similar difficulties.
As things stand, the guidelines about vaccines and travel remain somewhat confusing. In the absence of any clear government directions, several speculations are doing the rounds, particularly on the need for a ‘vaccine passport’. Typically, a COVID-negative report is sufficient for travel. However, that doesn’t seem to help the situation that Indians, particularly students, find themselves in at the moment. Even though Bharat Biotech has declared that a pre-qualification from WHO is not a requirement for foreign travel, the important thing is that WHO approval is secured as quickly as possible. In an environment when vaccine passports are likely to become a thing of the near future, there is no case for delaying the issue of UN approval.
Bharat Biotech’s statement last week said it had submitted 90 per cent of the documentation required to the WHO for the authorisation of emergency use listing. What is not clear is what the remaining 10 per cent consists of and why it has not been provided given that India okayed the use of the vaccine many months ago. At the end of the day, it is not enough to roll out a safe vaccine; it is essential that those who have taken it enjoy the same benefits as others who were vaccinated. It is up to the Centre and Bharat Biotech to work together to get on the UN approved list as quickly as possible.
Given the number of students that go to US universities, which runs into a couple of lakhs every year, the Centre must pull out all the stops to help them. This means doing at least two things. First, to secure early appointment slots for students with admissions, to fast-track the process of having them vaccinated. And second, to see that the necessary approvals are secured for Covaxin, which has been proven to be safe and effective, even if it hasn’t found itself yet on the UN-approved list.