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Australians vaccinated overseas seek clarity, fear missing out on new COVID-19 freedoms

Australia currently recognises only two overseas vaccines - Covishield (AstraZeneca/Serum Institute of India) and Coronavac (Sinovac) - for travel purposes. Source: AAP Image/EPA/JAGADEESH NV

Australian citizens Archana and Yadagiri Kunarapu took Covaxin, which is currently not on the Australian list of approved and recognised COVID vaccines, in India before returning to Canberra in June.

Yadagiri Kunarapu fears his family will fall through the cracks as Australia and its states open up international travel and further ease restrictions for fully vaccinated citizens and residents from 1 November. 

"Our biggest worry is about returning to work as an increasing number of workplaces are mandating their employees to be fully vaccinated," Mr Kunarapu, an IT contractor, told SBS Hindi. 


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Mr Kunarapu, his wife Archana and their two children returned from the Indian state of Telangana in June. They completed their mandatory quarantine at a Sydney hotel before returning to their home in Canberra. 

"We took Covaxin on the advice of doctors in our immediate family. They said Covaxin had higher efficacy than Covishield and its waiting period is shorter," he said.

"So we took the shots as we wanted to protect ourselves before boarding the plane."

Yadagiri Kunarapu and his wife took Covaxin before they returned to Australia in June.
Yadagiri Kunarapu and his wife took Covaxin before they returned to Australia in June.
Supplied by Yadagiri Kunarapu

Mr Kunarapu says now he is worried as his wife, who works in the public sector, needs to report at work next week.

"I tried reaching the Department of Health for advice. I wanted to ask if we should revaccinate ourselves with vaccines currently approved in Australia. But I didn't get a proper answer," he said.

Australia currently recognises only two overseas COVID-19 vaccines - Covishield (AstraZeneca/Serum Institute of India) and Coronavac (Sinovac) - for the purpose of travel to Australia.

The recognition was provided on 1 October.

The Department of Health said the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) will consider other vaccines once it receives adequate data.

"At this point in time, TGA has received insufficient data to reach a conclusion as to the protection offered by BIBP-CorV (Sinopharm), Covaxin (Bharat Biotech), Sputnik V (Gamaleya Institute), and Convidecia (CanSino)," it told SBS Hindi in a statement. 

"These vaccines could be recognised in the coming weeks or months, should data be made available," it added. 

The Department of Health said returned travellers, who received a COVID-19 vaccine overseas, should consult their doctors or GPs about the needs, benefits and risks of receiving additional COVID-19 vaccines. 

"Such a decision should be made on a case-by-case basis and only with full consent from the patient," it said.

Mr Kunarapu said he approached his GP too.

"My general practitioner couldn't offer much help saying they don't have any information and guidelines from the government on the same," he said.

"We are confused and scared now. We don't want to take the risk of taking two different vaccines without knowing the side effects and being counted as unvaccinated citizens when returning to work, visiting retail shops and taking domestic and international travels."

Shanti Reddy, President of the Federation of Indian Associations of ACT, said he has written to Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt to look into the issue.

"I understand TGA is currently assessing this brand (Covaxin), however, we do not know how long this process would take. This makes it difficult for people like Giri to plan, as he and his young family cannot fully participate in post lockdown return to a normal lifestyle," Mr Reddy said in his email.

"I would greatly appreciate it if you could kindly request the Department to look into this matter and issue a media statement on current thinking and plan to address such cases, including medical advice from ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation). This would be highly appreciated not just in Canberra but all over the country."

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