Covaxin-ated folks and the U.S. travel ban: What’s the latest?
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Covaxin-ated folks and the U.S. travel ban: What’s the latest?

Rupali Amin
Rupali Amin

**Update as of Nov.03.2021 - Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an emergency use listing (EUL) for indigenous Bharat Biotech developed COVAXIN. The vaccine was approved in January in India, with the third phase of clinical trials still under way.
After the WHO approval, the U.S. has also given a green signal to the covaxin-ated individuals for entering the country from November 8, 2021.

A much-awaited decision has finally come through. In the last week of September, the White House officials announced that the U.S. might soon be lifting the COVID-related travel ban from around 33 countries, including India.

This news has created excitement and anticipation for several Indian nationals who are waiting to get back to their place of employment in the U.S. or have been recently employed on U.S. soil.

Unapproved Jabs: A bane

Beyond the excitement of returning back to their karm-bhoomi, there are some bits of uncertainty too. U.S. President Joe Biden announced that adult foreign passengers could fly in from specific countries only if they are fully vaccinated starting early November. This means that they need to have their jabs sorted before they set foot on U.S. soil.

But what does this mean for Indians who've already received vaccines that have not been authorized… yet?

Passing the ball

Foreign nationals entering the U.S. will need to present proof of vaccination before travel (and will not be required to quarantine when they arrive). What's noteworthy here is that the White House has said that the final decision on accepted vaccines is to be taken by the U.S. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

The latest from the CDC is that the list of accepted vaccines will only include the FDA-authorized and WHO-authorized vaccines. With agencies' interdependence on each other and the ball passing from one to the other, there is obscurity on the set of accepted vaccines and when will the new ones be added to that list.  

What does this mean for the Covaxin-ated folks?

Allow us to make a case for Bharat Biotech's India-made vaccine: Covaxin - A vaccine that many Indians have already taken in anticipation of safety against COVID-19 in India's last 6-7 months.

However, this vaccine was not given approval for emergency use in the U.S. by the FDA. Why? The FDA was not satisfied with the full extent of data it received on the clinical trials of Covaxin. The Covaxin is pending approval from the WHO as well.

Travel plans in a limbo

This only means that the Covaxin-ated folks' travel plans have reached a standstill despite the U.S. lifting the travel ban. The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) will be meeting on October 5th to decide the fate of Covaxin and whether it should be granted the EUA.

Even if October 5th is not so far away, for the Indian nationals who've been waiting to go back to the U.S., the next few days or weeks might seem like a lifetime.