About 20 old-age pensioners and healthcare workers are expected to receive the vaccine on Sunday during the symbolic launch of the programme, which will be split between Sevran and a geriatric care centre in Dijon.
EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen hailed the campaign start as a “touching moment of unity and a European success story”.
In a sign of impatience, some EU countries began vaccinating on Saturday, a day before the official start, with a 101-year-old woman in a care home becoming the first person in Germany to be inoculated and Hungary and Slovakia also handing out their first shots.
Countries also showed different strategies in their vaccination targeting, with Italy focusing on health workers, France the elderly and in the Czech Republic the prime minister himself at the front of the queue.
France rules people inoculated with AstraZeneca’s Covishield are ‘unvaccinated’
The lack of an EU licence for Covishield - the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in India - is leading to travellers from the UK, India and African to be technically classed as "unvaccinated" under French travel rules.
Published: 5 July 2021 16:55 CEST Updated: 6 July 2021 10:06 CEST
Photo: Ian Langsdon/AFP
This story has been updated. Click HERE for the latest details.
The AstraZeneca vaccine technically has two names – Vaxzevria which is produced in Europe and Covishield which is produced under licence by the Serum Institute in India.
It’s produced to the same specifications using the same ingredients, but Covishield doesn’t have a sales licence in the EU. The manufacturers presumably didn’t think this was important since their product is used mostly in India and Africa, but have now run into a problem – the EU’s vaccine passport rules specifically states that it will accept all vaccines licenced by the European Medicines Agency, which does not include Covishield.
This means that travellers from India and Africa vaccinated with it cannot use vaccine certificates for entry to the EU.
This is also a problem for some British travellers, since the UK’s vaccine programme has used large amounts of the Indian-produced AstraZeneca product.
Arrivals from the UK who are fully vaccinated with Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria product are not affected by this.
This does not affect people who received their vaccination in France.
What does the EU say?
The Local asked the European Commission, who told us: “At present, Covishield is not authorised for placing on the market in the EU. However, it has completed the World Health Organisation Emergency Use Listing process.
“EU Member States can therefore decide to allow entry to those vaccinated with Covishield.”
In other words, it’s up to the French government to decide whether they will accept Covishield-jabbed people as “fully vaccinated” under France’s travel rules.
So what do the French say?
The Local has asked the French government if they can provide some clarity on this matter and the Interior Ministry told us: “Covishield does not appear on the list of vaccines approved by the EU.”
So in travel terms, anyone vaccinated with Covishield does not count as ‘fully vaccinated’ according to the French criteria.
Officials have been quoted as saying that France is “actively working” on the issue of Covishield’s absence from the list of accepted vaccines after the matter was raised bilaterally by India.
“We are actively considering it and working on it,” a senior diplomat told RFI.
Groups representing French citizens living overseas – who might have been vaccinated with Covishield – have also been putting pressure on the government.
Is this important?
It is, because the UK is currently on France’s orange list, which means only fully vaccinated travellers can enter France for non-essential purposes such as holidays and family visits.
So if you don’t fit one of the categories for essential travel – which includes anyone permanently resident in France – the type of vaccine you have could mean the difference between being allowed in or not.
All arrivals – vaccinated or not – still need a Covid test, but non-vaccinated also need to quarantine for 7 days once here.
India is on France’s red list, which means no non-essential travel at all, even for fully vaccinated people. There is a difference in the quarantine length for vaccinated or non-vaccinated travellers, however.
Is this likely to change?
Several countries within Europe have decided to accept Covishield, accepting that it is essentially the same product as Vaxzevria, and the Serum Institute has also applied for a European sales licence. If that is granted – and there seems no reason why it would not be since AstraZeneca already has a sales licence – it would automatically be added to the list of accepted vaccines for all EU and Schengen zone countries.
Both the Indian and British governments have taken up the issue with the EU asking for Covishield to be added to the list of accepted vaccines for entry to the Bloc.