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Reader question: Can I travel to Switzerland if I've had AstraZeneca's 'Covishield' vaccine?

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 13 Jul, 2021 Updated Tue 13 Jul 2021 13:50 CEST
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(FILES) This file photo taken on February 11, 2021 shows doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the start of a vaccination campaign at a hub for Covid-19 vaccinations located in Rome's Fiumicino airport long-term parking area. - Italy has blocked a shipment to Australia of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine in the first such export ban under an EU vaccine monitoring scheme, an EU source told AFP on March 4, 2021. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

If you've been vaccinated with AstraZeneca, you could well have had a shot of 'Covishield' - which is not yet approved by the EMA. Can you still travel to Switzerland if you've had it?

What's this all about?

While we've all become used to describing vaccines by the names of the companies who produce them, it turns out that the same vaccines can appear in numerous different guises.

In this instance, we're mainly concerned with two key versions of AstraZeneca: one produced in Europe under the brand name Vaxzevria, and one produced under licence by India's Serum Institute, which is marketed as a Covishield.

Though the brand names are different, the vaccine is identical: it is produced with the same ingredients to the same specifications. The only key difference is that the version made in India is not licensed within the EU.

Until recently, this hadn't been much of an issue, since Covishield is largely distributed in India, the United Kingdom and several African countries. 

However, with the roll-out of the EU's vaccine passport, the Indian-produced AstraZeneca vaccine has hit a snag: only vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) fall under the scope of the vaccine passport scheme, so travellers who've been immunised with Covishield have been having headaches when travelling around the EU. 

While Switzerland is not a member of the EU, it has become a part of the EU vaccine pass framework in order to facilitate travel across the bloc. 

EXPLAINED: How to use Switzerland’s Covid app when travelling in the EU

What is the EU saying? 

A spokesperson for the European Commission told the The Local that the acceptance of Covishield for travellers was a matter for individual Member States to decide.

“At present, Covishield is not authorised for placing on the market in the EU," they said. "However, it has completed the World Health Organisation (WHO) Emergency Use Listing process. EU Member States can therefore decide to allow entry to those vaccinated with Covishield.”

This means that, while it may not be valid for the EU-wide digital, those who have had a shot of the Indian-manufactured vaccine should nonetheless be allowed to enter certain European countries without a negative test or proof of recovery - and, depending on that country's rules, without needing to quarantine.

This also applies to other versions of popular vaccines that have been manufactured elsewhere in the world, such as the third version of AstraZeneca - SK Bio - which is manufactured in South Korea, and other versions of Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. 

What are the rules in Switzerland?

Switzerland administers vaccines from only two manufacturers: Moderna and Biontech/Pfizer. 

Unlike in most European countries, AstraZeneca was never approved in Switzerland.

Furthermore, while the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has been approved, the Swiss government has not purchased any doses - meaning that the vaccine is also not administered here

Fortunately however for travellers, while Switzerland's domestically administered vaccine list is relatively short, it does accept a wide variety of vaccines for people wanting to enter the country. 

This includes the Covishield vaccine, as well as two vaccines manufactured in China (Sinovac and Sinopharm). 

People vaccinated with the following will be allowed to enter Switzerland: 

  • Pfizer/BioNTech (BNT162b2 / Comirnaty® / Tozinameran)
  • Moderna (mRNA-1273 / Spikevax / COVID-19 vaccine Moderna)
  • AstraZeneca (AZD1222 Vaxzevria®/ Covishield™)
  • Janssen / Johnson & Johnson (Ad26.COV2.S)
  • Sinopharm / BIBP (SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine (Vero Cell))
  • Sinovac (CoronaVac)

The full list is laid out by the Swiss government here

The European version of AstraZeneca is the same as the Indian version in all but name. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/LongVisual via ZUMA Wire | Camilo Erasso

That means that travellers from the UK, India and Africa who have been inoculated with the Covishield version of the vaccine will be permitted to enter the country, though they may have some issues with onward travel to places like France, where Covishield is still unrecognised

How do I know if I've been vaccinated with Covishield?

The easiest way to check if you've been vaccinated with Covishield is to look at your vaccination booklet and see what brand name is listed on there.

If your vaccine certificate states only AstraZeneca, you can check the batch number to find out which version you were vaccinated with.

Where else in Europe can I travel? 

As of June 12th, 15 countries in Europe had officially agreed to recognise Covishield for travel, according to a tweet by WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan. 

In alphabetical order, these are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

However, with India's reciprocal offer on the table and an ever-expanding list of countries agreeing to accept the vaccine, more European countries could well be added to this list in the coming weeks. 



The Local 2021/07/13 13:50

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