Foreign Policy Watch: India – EU

EU’s vaccine travel pass discriminates against low-income countries

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Green Pass

Mains level : Paper 2- Issues with vaccine travel policies

Context

The introduction of Covid-19 vaccines has opened up opportunities to help revive travel. However, it is important to carefully design policies that help revive travel demand.

Vaccine certificates

  • Many countries like China and Israel have introduced vaccine certificates that ease the process of entering and travelling across the destination country for vaccinated travellers.
  • Can encourage discriminatory treatment: Though these certificates can ensure 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.

Issues with European Union’s Green Pass

  • Through this vaccine certificate, the European Commission intends to remove travel restrictions such as entry bans, quarantine obligations and testing.
  • Only 4 vaccines listed: The EU has listed only four vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for the pass: Pfizer-BioNTech’s Comirnaty, Moderna’s Spikevax, Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaxzevria and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen.
  • It makes travellers from countries administering alternate vaccines ineligible for certification.
  • When it was launched, the policy did not even allow AstraZeneca’s Indian-manufactured vaccine, Covishield.
  • Against COVAX policy: This goes against the policy of COVAX, which has categorically stated that such measures would effectively create a two-tier system and would negatively impact the growth of economies that are already suffering the most.
  • Discriminatory against low-income countries: Vaccine doses administered per 100 people is 1.4 for low-income countries as compared to 93.2 for high-income countries.
  • This makes travellers from low-income countries ineligible to avail these certificates.
  • As per estimates based on information from the WHO, countries not administering any of the EMA-approved vaccines account for at least 14 per cent of the vaccinated population.
  • These lie mostly in low and middle-income countries, including India.
  • Harms domestic sector: Nationals from many of these countries also serve in the hospitality industries in countries across the world, including Europe.
  • With this exclusion criteria, an indirect cost burden is put on their domestic service sectors that are already reeling due to the pandemic.
  • Against globalisation policy: With such discriminatory intervention, the EU policy does not go well with the globalisation policy of collective welfare.

Steps to boost vaccine production

  • 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.
  • 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.

Way forward

  • Cooperate on vaccine production: To achieve the desired goal, countries need to cooperate on vaccine production to accelerate the global vaccination process.
  • Remove restrictions and trade barriers: Accelerating global vaccine production makes lifting trade barriers on raw materials for vaccine production critical.
  • The two relevant bodies, WHO and WTO, should also work together to sort out selective criteria for international movement.

Conclusion

Developed countries should refrain from discriminatory international travel policies against low-income countries and focus on increasing vaccine production to close the vaccination gap at the global level.

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