- The travel industry is divided on whether or not to make coronavirus vaccination mandatory.
- Qantas has said it will likely require passengers to have proof of a COVID-19 vaccine before allowing them to fly internationally.
- However, a blanket vaccination requirement raises some issues, especially considering how long it could be until everyone has access to a vaccine.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that “traveling increases the chances of contracting and spreading COVID-19.”
- Visit the Insider home page for more stories.
When news of the successful COVID-19 vaccine trials arrived, the world, ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, finally saw some light at the end of the tunnel.
In fact, many travelers immediately began researching their upcoming trips, as travel search engines like Skyscanner reported huge spikes in traffic when news of the vaccine broke.
The UK has already started distributing Pfizer’s vaccine to front-line workers and the elderly, while the US awaits approval from the FDA. That said, it can take months before young, healthy members of the public have access to a vaccine and potentially years until vaccines are available to everyone in the world.
That raises important questions about what COVID-19 vaccines could mean for the travel industry.
Airlines are private companies and may require travelers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before flying
Shortly after news of the vaccines broke, Qantas said It will likely require passengers to have proof of a COVID-19 vaccine before allowing them to fly internationally.
However, to date, it is the only airline to have made such an announcement.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian said TODAY said he could see such a requirement being instituted on international flights, though he said it could come from international authorities rather than airlines.
Jill Chung, a spokeswoman for Korean Air, said similarly that airlines may require vaccines in the future, according to AP, but added that this is likely because governments are calling to open borders and lift quarantine requirements.
Airports Council International (ACI), which represents all airports in the world, has not made a commitment to make COVID-19 vaccines a requirement, but rather suggests that airports should be able to choose between testing and vaccination, according to Reuters.
Their main fear is that the requirement for a vaccine, especially during the period before vaccines become widely available, could deter people from traveling and further damage the already weakened industry.
“Just as the quarantine effectively stopped the industry, a universal requirement for vaccines could do the same,” Airport Council International director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira told Reuters.
The tests are “more critical to reopening borders than the vaccine,” the director of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Alexandre de Juniac, told Reuters. IATA is a trade group representing 290 airlines worldwide.
IATA Medical Adviser David Powell echoed this, saying at an IATA virtual meeting in November that airlines and governments should work together to come up with standardized testing protocols that will eliminate quarantine and help open the borders.
Representatives for IATA, ACI and the Cruise Lines Association did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Countries that require certain vaccinations before entry are nothing new
While many destinations make testing a recent negative COVID test mandatory, to date, no country has announced plans to make testing a vaccine mandatory.
The idea of countries requiring testing of certain vaccines is not new. For example, dozens of countries require travelers to be vaccinated against yellow fever before they can enter.
“Ultimately, it is up to governments to determine when and how it is safe to reopen borders and we continue to work closely with authorities on this,” Air New Zealand said in a statement, according to AP.
A general vaccination requirement raises some problems
There will be passengers who, for medical, religious or personal reasons, may choose not to be vaccinated.
It could be a continuation of the pushback airlines saw in requiring passengers to wear face masks. Delta, United and Alaska Airlines had to ban more than 900 people who refused to comply, the Washington Post reports. The widespread requirements to show negative test results led to a black market for counterfeit papers.
Some worry that the requirement for a vaccine may also discriminate against those who do not have easy access to good medical care, making travel a matter of privilege.
Questions also remain about the longevity of vaccines. According to the Washington Post, “scientists still don’t know how long the protection induced by the vaccine will last, for example, or if the vaccines can block the actual infection or just prevent the onset of the disease.
Digital health passports can help provide some level of standardization
Digital Health Passports are mobile applications that allow travelers to upload vaccine tests and coronavirus test results in a secure and encrypted way. More and more are entering the market.
CommonPass is designed to establish a common international standard for health data, from laboratory results to vaccination records, and can provide airlines, border controls and governments with test results and information on the health of passengers through a personalized QR code.
“What CommonPass does is establish a framework for people to have their COVID tests and vaccine results in a safe place so they can cross a border without sharing their personal health information,” Thomas Crampton, director of communications and CommonPass marketing, he previously told Insider.
However, the app is currently only available through the airlines that test it.
Similarly, Health Pass by CLEAR, a company best known as a way to get through airport security more quickly, links biometric information with certified documents such as health questionnaires, vaccination records, temperature checks, and COVID tests. , according to CNBC.
IATA is currently in the final phase of developing its own digital passport, called the IATA Travel Pass, which should be available in the coming months.
Like CommonPass, the IATA Travel Pass will create a custom QR code with test results and proof of vaccination, which travelers will use at check-in to ensure they comply with entry regulations at their destination.
As vaccines become more common, airlines and governments will have to decide whether vaccines are mandatory or not, as well as compile a standardized list of vaccines and tests that will be accepted globally.