"Europe's got to accept the Australian version of Astra. They don't at the moment. They only accept the British version of Astra because that's the one that's been approved by the regulatory agency. So there is work to be done by the Australian government to get the Australian-manufactured Astra approved."
That was Dr Norman Swan on ABC Radio Sydney on July 17, 2021, addressing the question of Australians being able to travel freely around Europe – and it set alarm bells ringing among travellers.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA), the body that evaluates and regulates medicinal products within the EU, has authorised only four vaccines for use. While the Pfizer vaccine – under the name Comirnaty – is one of those, the AstraZeneca vaccine dispensed in Australia is not.
Is that likely to present a problem for Australians who have been vaccinated here with AstraZeneca when they travel around Europe? Probably not.
While an approved vaccine is the gold standard for trouble-free travel around Europe, "Member States may decide to extend this also to EU travellers that received another vaccine," according to the European Commission official website.
In the case of Spain, France, Italy, Sweden, Romania, Greece, Poland, Germany and most other countries you're likely to want to visit, proof of Oxford AstraZeneca AZD1222, the AstraZeneca vaccine used in Australia, will get you through the door.
Switzerland is an exception, but in addition to the EMA-approved vaccines, Switzerland also recognises vaccines that have been authorised under the WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL). The EUL includes WHO recommendation AstraZeneca/TGA approved COVID-19 vaccine (ChAdOx1-S) [recombinant]), and if you've had AstraZeneca shots in Australia, that's what you've got in your arm.
For travel around Europe therefore, you're good to go if you've been vaccinated with Australia's AstraZeneca, at least officially. One problem that might emerge is the lack of information on the COVID-19 Digital Health Certificate that Medicare gives you when you've had both shots of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca.
In the case of AstraZeneca, the certificate simply states you've had both shots. It does not say that means two shots of COVID-19 Vaccine (ChAdOx1-S [recombinant]). You can't expect a border official to know that's the only vaccine dispensed in Australia, and that might complicate European travels.
For example, some European countries do not recognise the Indian-produced AstraZeneca which goes under the name Covishield. Some five million Brits were injected with Covishield, some of whom have been refused entry to European countries that have not approved the vaccine.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday that he "estimated" internationally recognised vaccination passports, including digital ones that can be stored on a smartphone, would be available from October.
Why has Australia's AstraZeneca not been approved by the European Medicines Agency?
The likely answer is that Australia's Department of Health hasn't asked. The EMA has authorised Vaxzevria, which is the major AstraZeneca vaccine dispensed in the UK. That's COVID-19 Vaccine (ChAdOx1-S [recombinant]) – the same as Australia's. If you don't ask, you don't get.
What about the US?
Only three COVID-19 vaccines are authorised for use, including Pfizer but not AstraZeneca. However Australians are currently allowed to enter the US subject to proof of a negative COVID-19 viral test taken within three calendar days of travel. Proof of vaccination is not a requirement for entry. Different states have different rules around vaccinations, for example, Florida has banned companies from asking customers to show proof of vaccination (something Norwegian Cruise Line is currently challenging in court claiming it jeopardizes safe operation of cruise ships).