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With the resumption of global travel on the horizon, some people are discovering that their choice of vaccine could determine where they’re allowed to go.
Already, the European Union is planning to allow Americans vaccinated with shots approved by their drug agency to enter over the summer, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen suggested in a New York Times interview Sunday.
This means that those who have shots by Chinese makers like Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and Sinopharm Group Co. Ltd. are likely to be barred from entry for the foreseeable future, with stark consequences for global business activity and the revival of international tourism.
As inoculation efforts ramp up around the world, a patchwork of approvals across countries and regions is laying the groundwork for a global vaccine bifurcation, where the shot you get could determine which countries you can enter and work in.
For Chinese citizens who venture abroad regularly, and western nationals wanting to pursue business opportunities in the world’s second-largest economy, a dilemma is emerging about which shot to opt for. China so far recognizes only Chinese-made shots, and its vaccines not approved in the U.S. or Western Europe.
Hong Kong citizen Marie Cheung travels to mainland China regularly for her work with an electric vehicle company, a routine that’s been interrupted by lengthy mandated quarantine stays since the pandemic began.
Of the two vaccine options available in the city — one from Sinovac and another developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE — Cheung plans to sign up for Sinovac for easier movement in and out of the mainland. Meanwhile, her British husband will go for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, she says to boost his chances of visiting family in the U.K.
“For people who need to work in or return to mainland, the Chinese vaccine is the only option for them,” Cheung said. “Westerners will only choose the vaccine recognized by their home country.”
For millions of people worldwide who can’t choose which vaccines they get, the risk of more places becoming selective about which shots they recognize, especially given the vaccines’ varying efficacy rates, creates the possibility that even fully inoculated, people’s travel could still be limited — with consequences for international business activity and the tourism industry.
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“A global division of peoples based around vaccine adoption will only exacerbate and continue the economic and political effects of the pandemic,” said Nicholas Thomas, associate professor in health security at the City University of Hong Kong. “It will risk the world being divided into vaccine silos based on vaccine nationalism rather than medical necessity.”
Many countries have shut their borders amid the pandemic, some allowing entry only to