Comment | By Wong Chun Wai

Of vaccine pride and prejudice

IT SMACKS of discrimination, really. The European Union (EU) has now reportedly said that its approval of AstraZeneca doses made by South Korea, Thailand, India or Japan would not be recognised.

Unfortunately, South Korea and Thailand produce AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccines for Malaysia’s order.

That means Malaysians vaccinated with AZ may be barred from entering Europe. The European Union’s Digital Covid Certificate will only recognise EU-approved shots for free travel within the bloc.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved the Covid-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca (branded Vaxzevria), besides Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.

But the EU drug regulator’s approval does not cover AstraZeneca doses made by South Korea’s SK Bioscience or Thailand’s Siam Bioscience.

The EMA has only approved AZ vaccine manufacturing sites in the EU, the United Kingdom, United States and China.

But while South Korea’s SK Bioscience manufacturing site is listed in Vaxzevria’s product information as one of the manufacturers of the vaccine’s biological active substance, EMA said this simply means that “the active substance produced at this site can be used to manufacture Vaxzevria, the vaccine that is authorised in the EU”.

The EU is saying this – the AZ produced in South Korea or Japan is not good enough.

It has accepted the one that is Made-In-China because no one messes around China. It is also a moot point as most Chinese have been vaccinated with Sinovac rather than AZ.

Until now, the EU is dragging its feet over the status of Sinovac, presumably counting the economic impact on Europe if the Chinese stop coming into Europe or start a boycott. The fact is China is the EU’s biggest trading partner.

These Europeans cannot make up their mind; it’s that simple. They are much smarter than the Aussies, which has taken China to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for the high tariffs on the wine.

Who is advising the Australian Prime Minister on this? You have kicked and humiliated the Chinese, and you expect them to buy your wine.

Instead of calming them down, you take them to the WTO. How brilliant. What a great way to treat your customers.

Perhaps Asians should tell the EU that we should not buy their luxury cars such as the Mercedes-Benz, which are assembled in India, Malaysia and Thailand – because they are not made in Europe.

It may not be the best comparison as it is like comparing apples and oranges, or well, durians and rambutans.

But is that the logic because if these German cars are assembled in Asia, their quality would not match those in Europe?

The French Peugeot owns and operates in Malaysia. It is also assembled in Vietnam and is starting manufacturing in India. I like to think these are good cars regardless of where they are assembled or manufactured because there will be proper quality control to protect the brands.

We know that Korean cars are produced in Czechoslovakia for Europe while Germany’s BMW cars are assembled in Malaysia.

All these decisions to recognise or not to recognise certain vaccines have put the world in a fix.

The EU has snubbed the World Health Organisation who has listed two versions of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, giving the green light for these vaccines to be rolled out globally through Covax.

WHO’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL) assesses the quality, safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines and is a prerequisite for Covax Facility vaccine supply.

It also allows countries to expedite their regulatory approval to import and administer Covid-19 vaccines.

But the Europeans are not the only ones giving the world this predicament. This includes the Chinese, too. If you are not vaccinated by Sinovac or Sinopharm, the two Chinese vaccines, you may be barred from entering China.

For many businessmen in Malaysia, who need to travel to China, their preferences are the Sinovac. But it’s beyond their control because they cannot select the vaccine that they preferred.

We should also not assume that everyone is embracing the American vaccine because there are many Asians who have walked away from vaccination centres when they find out that they would be given Pfizer.

They would rather take the Sinovac than Pfizer, Moderna or AZ, which would be the choice of those wanting to go to the US or UK. We are not even sure of the status of AZ vaccinated people who want to enter the US.

There are reports that the US does not recognise AZ and is reportedly sending them abroad, presumably because its regulatory system has not approved it yet.

For Muslims in Malaysia, the Saudi Arabia government has insisted that it would only allow pilgrims jabbed with Pfizer and AZ. That must be heartbreaking for many pilgrims – who are vaccinated with other vaccines – from many countries.

Then, there is the Taiwan government which refused to accept Chinese vaccines out of pride.

They accepted the AZ vaccine, which included over two million doses from Japan, and now we are told the EU doesn’t recognise the Japanese one either.

As of now, the vaccines, regardless of their brands, are about saving lives. The last thing that we are worried about is making overseas trips, unless on urgent business.

We will let the leaders sort out this mess. It will be foolish if vaccine discrimination comes into effect.

No one would want to admit it’s just a way of keeping away certain nationalities, but it looks to be that way.

Note: I have had my second dose of #CucukMYAZ and I am grateful. I don’t have the slightest worry if I am unwelcomed anywhere else.