India calls UK vaccine rules ‘discriminatory’, Johnson announces booster

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Delhi: India has criticised the British government’s decision not to recognise coronavirus vaccine certificates issued by Indian authorities, calling it a “discriminatory policy” that will impact on its citizens who want to travel to that country.

Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said the new rules unveiled last week, which take effect next month, could force India to “impose reciprocal measures” if it isn’t resolved.

Covishield vaccine is packed at the Serum Institute of India in Pune. Covishield is a licensed product of a UK company, manufactured in India.Credit:AP

The news comes as Johnson & Johnson announced a second shot of its vaccine boosts protection against symptomatic and severe COVID-19. The booster shots also generated additional antibodies, molecules churned out by the immune system to help fight off infections, it said.

The new rules require Indians visiting Britain to quarantine themselves for 10 days and undergo COVID-19 tests even if they are fully vaccinated with Indian-made AstraZeneca vaccine.

The vaccine, produced under license by India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, is not recognised by Britain. The institute has not formally applied to the European Union for official approval of its AstraZeneca vaccine, which it calls Covishield.

“Here is a vaccine, Covishield, which is a licensed product of a UK company, manufactured in India, of which we have supplied 5 million doses to the UK at the request of the government of the UK. We understand that this has been used in the national health system and therefore, non-recognition of Covishield is a discriminatory policy,” Shringla told reporters.

India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, said on Tuesday he discussed the matter with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

In a tweet, Jaishankar said he urged Truss to quickly resolve the issue.

The new rules, which also require people arriving from many other countries to undergo quarantine, have sparked anger in India.

On Monday, a leader of the main opposition Congress party, Shashi Tharoor, said he has cancelled a book tour of Britain in protest and accused the UK government of “double standards”.

Another politician, Jairam Ramesh, said the decision “smacks of racism”.

India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, said on Monday it will resume exports and donations of surplus coronavirus vaccines in October after a months-long freeze because of massive surge in domestic infections.

Medical experts welcomed the news about the Johnson & Johnson booster shot.

“It’s very exciting news,” said Vanderbilt University Medical Centre infectious-diseases and preventive medicine professor William Schaffner, though he cautioned not all the data has been seen and that information must be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration before recommendations can be made.

“The people who received J & J have been a little concerned that they’ve been left in the shade, when it comes to repeat vaccination,” Schaffner said. These results seem encouraging that those vaccine recipients might “expect a booster in their future”.

Under the FDA’s emergency use authorisation, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is given as a single dose, unlike the two shots required for full immunisation with AstraZeneca, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines.

Results published this summer indicate that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine generates lasting amounts of antibodies able to target the delta variant and other variants of concern. In June and July, when delta was ascendant, the effectiveness of the one-shot vaccine was 78 per cent against observed COVID-19, according to a report published on Thursday that has not yet gone through peer review.

A second dose, given 56 days after the first, further improves protection, the company said in a news release on Tuesday. According to the company’s Ensemble 2 study, a Phase 3 randomised clinical trial, efficacy was 100 per cent against severe or critical COVID-19 when assessed at least two weeks after the booster. Efficacy against symptomatic disease in the United States was 94 per cent and 75 per cent globally.

“We now have generated evidence that a booster shot further increases protection against COVID-19 and is expected to extend the duration of protection significantly,” Johnson & Johnson chief scientific officer Paul Stoffels said in a statement.

Full data from that trial was not released, the company said. It said it will be submitted for publication in months.

Nearly 15 million Americans received Johnson & Johnson doses, while about 166 million people have been fully vaccinated with Pfizer and Moderna.

AP, Washington Post

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