The EU’s Digital Covid Certificate travel scheme allows travellers to straightforwardly prove their vaccination status and be exempt from quarantining when crossing a European border.
But reports surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine’s production and eligibility on the EU’s scheme have rocked the UK and countries worldwide recently, with many citizens suddenly finding holiday plans potentially put on hold.
Millions in the UK are reportedly unable to travel to EU member states using the Digital Covid Certificate scheme as a means of proof of vaccination and entry, as this only recognises vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Three batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine administered in the UK were produced by the Serum Institute of India as Covishield, which is currently not approved by the EMA and therefore not recognised on the Digital Covid Certificate.
EU member states can allow entry for people vaccinated with vaccines enrolled on the World Health Organisation’s Emergency Use Listing process, but some EU countries using the Digital Covid Certificate as a means of determining entry will not accepting Covishield-vaccinated travellers until the Indian vaccine is approved by the EU’s regulator.
It is thought that up to five million Brits who received jabs from the Indian AstraZeneca batches could risk being barred from holidays in certain EU countries as a result.
Malta today (July 14) blocked a British elderly couple who had received vaccines from the Indian-made AstraZeneca batches from entering the country, with the country’s travel guidance stating it would not accept UK travellers into the country if they had been vaccinated from the impacted batches.
In Scotland, a cumulative total of 2,128,549 people have received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine so far, while for the second dose this figure stands at 1,890,268 as of July 12.
Professor Adam Finn, of the UK Government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), described the exclusion of certain batches as “an administrative hurdle that needs to be straightened out” but added that “people should not be concerned that they are in some way less well protected”.
Where was my AstraZeneca vaccine made?
The AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine was first created in the UK by Oxford University and British-Swedish pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca.
But while the majority of batches have been produced in the UK, there are three batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, with these made and manufactured under the name ‘Covishield’ in India.
The UK-made version has been identified and sold as ‘Vaxzevria’.
The Pfizer, UK-made AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines are all recognised by the EU’s regulator – so those receiving these vaccines are permitted to travel to and across the EU without needing to quarantine the new Digital Covid Certificate travel scheme.
How do I find out my AstraZeneca batch number and if I’m affected?
If you received an AstraZeneca vaccine dose, you can find out which batch your jab came from by looking on your vaccination card – where the batch number will be indicated alongside the type of vaccine you received and the date of your vaccination.
NHS app users in England and Wales can check their batch number on the app, which has been adapted for the purpose of allowing people to show proof of vaccination when travelling.
To do so, users can log into the NHS App and locate the details of their vaccination, including batch number, by going to ‘Get your NHS Covid pass’ and clicking through to their covid-19 records.
For those living in Scotland, the COVID-19 Status Helpline can be reached on 0808 196 8565 and a vaccination status letter is also available to request for those travelling abroad by logging into their account with NHS Scotland here.
The unique username for this account will have been given to you when you were given your first vaccine dose appointment.
What are the Indian-made AstraZeneca batch numbers?
The numbers of the Covishield AstraZeneca batches not currently approved by the EMA are 4120Z001, 4120Z002 and 4120Z003.
But there is no actual difference between the two AstraZeneca vaccines, with the reason behind Covishield’s lack of approval by the EU regulator being that the Serum Institute did not initially seek approval in the EU.
The Serum Institute has now completed an emergency use listing for Covishield with the World Health Organisation.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Professor Finn added that the batches are "exactly the same stuff".
"We're in the early days of this new world of needed vaccine passports and there are lots of aspects of this that are still being sorted out for the first time.
"But it's clearly, ultimately not in anyone's interest, including the European Union, to create hurdles that don't need to be there."
A European Commission spokesman said that "entry into the EU should be allowed to people fully vaccinated with one of the vaccines authorised in the EU".
He added that individual member states could also allow entry for people vaccinated with jabs on WHO's emergency list.
"This is the case for Covishield which is not authorised for placing on the market in the EU," he added.
Which EU countries are accepting Covishield?
There are 16 countries so far which have said they will accept people vaccinated with Covishield, with France recently becoming one of the countries accepting the Indian AstraZeneca formula since early July.
WHO Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan tweeted on July 9 to say that “15 countries in EU now recognize #COVISHIELD for travelers”.
These are the 16 countries accepting Covishield vaccines so far:
Austria Belgium Bulgaria Finland France Germany Greece Hungary Iceland Ireland Latvia The Netherlands Slovenia Spain Sweden Switzerland
The European Commission has stressed that the Digital Covid Certificate is not a pre-requisite for European travel, but is rather a tool to allow travel to take place more easily in EU countries where restrictions have been lifted.
As well as accepting vaccines listed on WHO’s Emergency Listing Process, individual member states can also accept proof of vaccination documentation issued in third countries, so long as this contains information which can identify the person, type of vaccine and date of vaccination.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps appeared on BBC Breakfast on July 14, saying that Brits being turned away from flights to Malta was “not right” and “shouldn’t be happening” after UK travellers were prevented from entering the country.
The Maltese authorities later performed a U-turn on their refusal to allow entry to those with jabs from the three Indian-made AstraZeneca batches.
Posting on Twitter, Mr Shapps said: “UPDATE: The #Maltese authorities have amended their travel advice so anyone who has an OXFORD AstraZeneca vaccine in the UK (regardless of manufacture location) is able to travel without being turned away - with all vaccines having gone through rigorous safety and quality checks.”
On August 3, The Telegraph reported that the UK Government’s attempts to convince up to 13 other EU member states to accept the Covishield vaccine had fallen through.
UK travellers attempting to enter countries included in this group, such as Portugal, are reportedly likely to be forced to quarantine for two weeks in the country upon arrival if they received a Covishield vaccine.
Entry requirements for those from the UK travelling to Portugal, which is the UK’s amber list for travel, state that in order to avoid quarantine travellers must be double-jabbed with a vaccine approved by the EMA.
Portugal’s refusal to recognise vaccines not approved by the EMA, including Covishield, is not mirrored by its island of Madeira, which has agreed to let in travellers vaccinated with Covishield and other vaccines not yet approved by the EU.
What have UK governments said about Covishield?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday July 2 he saw no reason why people who received Indian-made Covishield vaccines should be left out of vaccine passport schemes after the European Union did not initially recognise it.
"I see no reason at all why the MHRA-approved vaccines should not be recognised as part of the vaccine passports and I'm very confident that that will not prove to be a problem," Johnson said at a joint news conference with Angela Merkel.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “People should check the entry requirement for the country they are visiting before travelling.
“All AstraZeneca vaccines given in Scotland appear on the record of vaccination as Vaxzevria - EU/1/21/1529.”
They added: “A number of EU countries have already indicated they are happy to accept Scotland’s record of vaccination where they want evidence that people have been fully vaccinated as a condition of entry.
"We are not aware of any EU countries refusing to accept this statement.”
Additional reporting by PA Deputy Political Editor Sam Bewlett