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New Delhi: The government is working towards issuing digital covid-19 vaccination certificates that will be valid globally.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this week cautioned that being vaccinated against covid-19 may not prevent transmission and 'vaccination passports' may not be an “effective strategy" for restarting travel. Some countries in the European Union have indicated that they are attempting to create a ‘vaccine passport’ for citizens that can be used for travelling, the WHO has not supported the idea.

India's plans are aligned with WHO's standard, Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), which is in the works, and the country would follow the norms when in place, the government has said.

“They (WHO) are designing and working on the format of the digital certificate including various aspects that a digital certificate should contain and digital verifiability of same. As soon as they come up with the standard, we will be in full compliance with FHRI standard. So, the digital certificate issued by India will be valid everywhere," Ram Sewak Sharma, chairman of Empowered Group on Technology and Data Management to combat covid-19 and member, National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration (NEGVAC) of covid-19 said during a dialogue in Public Affairs Forum of India (PAFI).

Vaccine passports may not be an effective strategy as “not everyone has access to vaccines" and there are groups in society who are excluded, said WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris. "We are still waiting on adequate supplies to provide the vaccines to all the countries that need them."

India currently has no such policy in either domestic or international travel but public health experts believe vaccination certificates can still boost tourism not only in India but across the world.

“Regarding international travel, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has been regularly updating India's policy as the disease transmission dynamics unfolds. Apart from negative RT-PCR test for SARS-CoV-2 infection for passengers from other countries, currently, there is no such policy in place mandating vaccination certificates for travellers coming to India," said Samiran Panda, head, epidemiology and communicable diseases, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and a member of the government’s National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC).

People who get the first dose of the vaccine are given a provisional certificate, while after the second dose, the person gets a final vaccination certificate in India. Some states in India have decided to ask for covid-19 negative test or final covid-19 vaccination certificate.

According to the new guidelines issued by the Odisha government on Friday, it is mandatory for people coming to the state to produce either a negative RT-PCR test report obtained within 72 hours of entry or final vaccination certificate after two doses of vaccination. This is applicable to all modes of travel, including people entering the state by train, bus, aeroplane, waterways or in private vehicles, the order says.

According to D.K. Mangal, Dean - Research, IIHMR Jaipur, an academic institution, there are countries such as Belize, Croatia, Ecuador, Estonia, Georgia, Guatemala, Iceland, Montenegro, Poland, Seychelles, and Slovenia, that permit international travelers to enter the country and permit them to avoid mandatory quarantine if they possess full certification vaccination against covid-19.

“However, it is not advisable to use covid vaccine as proof for safe travel as there is no evidence whether the vaccine prevents transmission of virus or not. But in domestic context, there can be some boost to the travel and tourism which has seen a setback due to the pandemic," said Mangal.

Even though India has already administered over 100 million covid-19 vaccines, vaccine hesitancy is leading to low uptake and continues to impact the nationwide covid-19 vaccination program in India. The government is also working on speeding up the vaccination processes digitally. “Supply of vaccine, capacity to vaccinate and demand for the vaccine are crucial determinants. Vaccination aims to cover people who need the vaccine and not those who want it with the responsibility of state government and local authorities to prevent vaccine wastage," said Sharma.

The WHO on Friday said that more than 700 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, but over 87% have gone to high income or upper middle-income countries, while low-income countries have received just 0.2%. Out of 220 countries and economies, 194 have now started vaccination, and 26 have not. Of those, 7 have received vaccines and could start, and a further 5 countries should receive their vaccines in the coming days, Tedros Adhanonom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO said.

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