KUALA LUMPUR, July 8 — The Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia has criticised the selective recognition of Covid-19 vaccines for travel by both major Western and Asian powers.
The local think tank said this would lead to a “more fractured world” where smaller countries would feel “torn” between major blocs.
“It’s not difficult to imagine how a Covid-19 vaccine passport could become a tool to impose influence, control and power. That is exactly what we need to work against,” ISIS Malaysia chief executive Herizal Hazri told CodeBlue Tuesday.
“But it is important to mention that this isn’t a uniquely ‘Western’ development. For instance, until April 2021, a condition for entry to China included the stipulation that applicants must be vaccinated with vaccines produced in China.”
The European Union (EU) delegation to Malaysia said in a statement yesterday that the EU would consider recognising Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccination certificate as equivalent to the EU Digital Covid Certificate for travel into the region, but noted there is no common EU-wide list of entry requirements for international travellers. EU’s vaccine passport is currently only for European citizens or residents and enables exemption of free movement restrictions like testing and quarantine for travel between the 27 EU countries, as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.
According to the EU, entry into the region is “in principle” allowed to people fully vaccinated with coronavirus vaccines authorised in the EU, including shots manufactured in facilities not covered by marketing authorisation in the bloc. EU countries can also permit entry to people who received Covid-19 vaccines that were approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) for emergency use.
EU’s drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), has authorised four Covid-19 vaccines — the Vaxzevria version of the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot manufactured in the EU and the United Kingdom, as well as the coronavirus vaccines by American pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
The WHO’s emergency-use listing covers AstraZeneca vaccines produced by South Korea and India, besides the version manufactured in the EU, as well as the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Chinese vaccines Sinopharm and Sinovac. The AstraZeneca vaccines used in Malaysia are made in South Korea, Thailand, and Japan, while the government has also rolled out the Pfizer and Sinovac shots.
“Geopolitics have long permeated vaccine production and distribution, and it is likely that some aspects of it will spill over to vaccine passports. At least initially,” Herizal said.
“Countries will soon be aware that the disruption that follows unequal vaccinations as well as selective recognition of vaccines will cost more to the global economy, for example supply chain disruptions will cause inflation.
“We are already seeing the highest inflation in food prices in decades and there is no secret that the bulk of food suppliers are from lesser-developed economies. The longer they are denied access to vaccines, the bigger impact it will have on all.”
When asked which individual EU countries were likely to accept Covid-19 vaccines used in Malaysia, Herizal maintained that diplomacy and internal negotiations between countries would continue on the issue of vaccine recognition as more nations reopen during the pandemic.
“But we should also look further down the road. In the medium or long term, the vaccines’ effectiveness could decrease, and we might be needing booster shots to increase immunity levels. This raises the question of what happens to someone vaccinated with a ‘recognised’ vaccine, but no longer immune from Covid-19. What happens to that person’s travel plans then?”
When asked if Malaysia should reciprocate and deny entry to European travellers should the EU refuse to recognise Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccine certificate, Herizal said a “tit-for-tat response is only a short-term solution”.
“Fundamentally, it is in the interests of all countries that safe, seamless travel resume soon. It is not in Malaysia’s interest to be selective when we reopen our borders just because the EU is doing so.”
The BBC reported last week sources as saying that India would not recognise a EU vaccine pass for international travellers unless the bloc acknowledged India’s own vaccine certificate, with Delhi reportedly telling EU countries that it would “institute a reciprocal policy for recognition of the EU Digital Covid Certificate.”