Thursday, December 9, 2021

Foreign nationals want US-approved shots when travel resumes

BUDAPEST, Hungary (NWN) — As COVID-19 ravaged Hungary in April, Budapest resident Akos Sipos received his second vaccine dose, believing he was doing the right thing for his health and ending the pandemic. helping to do.

But Sipos, 46, soon learned that Russia’s vaccine, called Sputnik V, had disqualified him from traveling to several other countries where it was not approved. Nations include the United States, which is moving forward with a new air travel policy that would make Sipos and many like him ineligible to enter.

“I thought it was better to get Sputnik today than a Western vaccine at some uncertain future time,” Sipos, who worked as a search engine optimization specialist, said of his initial decision to get the jab. “But I didn’t know at the time that I wouldn’t be able to travel with Sputnik.”

Starting Monday, the United States plans to reopen to foreign travelers who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. But there’s a catch: Nonimmigrant adults need to receive vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration or who have received an emergency use list from the World Health Organization.

That leaves many hopeful travelers around the world who have retaken full courses of vaccines widely used in other parts of the world – the Sputnik V and the China-made CanSino jab, in particular – with shots approved by US officials. Scrambling to install.

Two other Chinese vaccines, Sinopharm and Sinovac, have been approved by the WHO and thus will be accepted for travel in the US.

Mexico received about 12 million doses of CanSino and about 20 million doses of Sputnik V since shipments began earlier this year. Residents who received the required two shots of those vaccines are now looking to top up with shots of vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson, in the hope that it will qualify them to cross the border.

“They spoiled those of us who got this vaccine,” said Rosenda Ruiz, 52, a public relations manager in Mexico City who received Sputnik V. “There are a lot of Mexicans who want to travel, but we can’t. I’m thinking about taking whatever vaccine I can get.”

While Sputnik V is used in about 70 countries around the world, it has not yet been approved by the FDA or a United Nations health agency. About 10 million people have received the vaccine in the Central European country of Hungary, about 10 million people.

Hungary was one of only two countries in the 27-member European Union to have rolled out a Russian vaccine. Less than 20,000 people received it in Slovakia.

Judit Molnar, president of the Association of Hungarian Travel Agencies, says that many Hungarians unable to travel to the United States – or even some of the EU countries that do not accept the jab – have a reason for their industry has been affected.

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“We see that over the past few months, travelers are increasingly asking us when they can travel to the US,” said Molnar, who is also the president of OTP Travel Agency.

“These travelers are saying that they really hope that the situation will change and that the United States will accept the Sputnik vaccine. There are many people who want to travel and in Hungary, many people were vaccinated against Sputnik,” she said.

Citizens of Russia, where the use of Sputnik V is most widespread, are also looking for Western-approved shots so they can travel abroad. Faced with the prospect of being turned away by flights, Russians have booked tours to Serbia, which has authorized the use of Pfizer-BioNtech, China’s Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines in addition to Sputnik V.

Russia, which in August 2020 unveiled Sputnik V as the world’s first registered vaccine to much fanfare, criticized the US plan to exclude the vaccine from the list of approved shots.

“There are absolutely zero reasons for such decisions,” said Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations in the Russian Duma, or the lower house of parliament. “The effectiveness and safety of the Sputnik V vaccine has been proven not only by experts, but also by its practical application.”

But the World Health Organization is still reviewing the vaccine, and months of holdups do not make it clear when Sputnik V may receive an emergency use list.

The Hungarian government has bilateral agreements with 24 countries, including Russia, Serbia, Mongolia, Georgia and Kazakhstan, that mutually recognize proof of vaccination, regardless of the type of vaccine.

Hungary’s foreign ministry told the Associated Press it was open to a similar agreement with the United States, but “there are currently no negotiations going on.”

Search engine specialist Sipos said that while he was confident in the efficacy of Sputnik V, he recently sought out the Western-approved booster shot, Moderna, so he could travel wherever he wanted.

“I felt cheated because they accept Sputnik in over 60 countries in the world, but in many other countries they don’t,” he said.

Sylvia Morales, 38, a public high school teacher in Monterrey, Mexico, said she recently got a Moderna shot after hearing that the US government would not recognize her CanSino vaccine.

She said she “needs peace of mind” about her level of protection from the virus.

“But I also love traveling to the United States,” she said.


Marcos Martínez Chacón in Monterrey, Mexico and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.


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