In its aim to restore travel across Europe, the European Union said in May that it would only recognise people as vaccinated if they had received shots licenced by the European Medicines Agency – although it’s up to individual countries if they wish to let in travellers who have received other vaccines, including Russia’s Sputnik V.
The EU drug regulator is currently considering licensing China’s Sinovac vaccine, but there is no timeline on a decision.
Any measure that only allows people protected by a subset of WHO-approved vaccines to benefit from the reopening of travel 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 WHO statement said Thursday.
WHO pointed out that this discriminatory method would negatively impact the growth of economies that are already suffering the most and that such moves are undermining confidence in life-saving vaccines that have already been shown to be safe and effective. In its reviews of the two Chinese vaccines, the UN health agency said both were found to significantly reduce the risk of hospitalisations and deaths.
The two Chinese shots are inactivated vaccines, made with killed coronavirus, whereas the Western-made shots are made with newer technologies that instead target the spike protein that coats the surface of the coronavirus.
Although Western countries have largely relied on vaccines made in the US and Europe, such as Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca, many developing countries have used the Chinese-made shots.
Earlier this year, the head of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged the effectiveness of its home-grown shots was low. Numerous countries that have used millions of doses of the two Chinese shots, including the Seychelles and Bahrain, have seen COVID-19 surges even with relatively high levels of immunisation.