While some countries are keen to get behind an EU-wide Covid passport scheme, many leaders remain concerned that Covid passports could result in discrimination – particularly of those who have not yet been immunised against the virus. French President Emmanuel Macron, for example, raised concerns over young people (who are at the back of the vaccine queue) not being able to travel, in line with vaccine certificate protocols.
Meanwhile, in lieu of any official decision, some countries are pushing for country-specific initiatives that would allow them to make the most of the summer tourism season – Vienna has asserted that it will implement its own system if nothing is agreed upon by spring, with plans to allow those who can prove Covid immunity (having either had it or testing negative).
International travel could have an inverse effect on Covid transmissions
But it’s not just member states that are growing concerned that disparities in vaccine distribution will become a discriminatory barrier to travel – the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Dr Ninglan Wong highlights that travellers are ‘not a priority group for vaccination’ and, as such, introducing requirements for proof of vaccine for international travel could not only result in inadequate supplies for priority populations due to the limited availability of vaccines (if travellers are given preferential vaccination), but it could also undermine the overall success of vaccine rollout in preventing the spread of the virus.
“There are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission,” Dr Wong said. Dr Lisa Indar, Director for Disease Prevention and Control at the Caribbean Public Health Agency CARPHA, agreed: “We still don’t know vaccination is proven to stop Covid-19. Not all vaccines may prevent spread. We need more evidence of vaccines lowering transmission.”
Walking the line
For now, it seems, all efforts must be focused on equitably distributing vaccines around the world. “At the rate we’re going, it will take five years to cover 75 per cent of the global population with two doses of vaccines,” Indar added. A fact that is not helped by the ‘great disparity in the global availability of vaccines’. “Developing countries have received limited vaccine supplies – 130 countries have not been delivered a single dose of vaccine,” Indar said.
Indeed, WHO recently called out countries that had secured deals with drug companies – accusing them of threatening the supply of Covid vaccines for the global COVAX progamme in their doing so. “We can’t beat Covid without vaccine equity. Our world will not recover fast enough without vaccine equity, this is clear,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “We have made great progress. But that progress is fragile. We need to accelerate the supply and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, and we cannot do that if some countries continue to approach manufacturers who are producing vaccines that COVAX is counting on.
“These actions undermine COVAX and deprive health workers and vulnerable people around the world of lifesaving vaccines.”
Still, some good news is that the increased distribution of vaccines has boosted confidence in travel – something that has been faltering over the past year. A study by Just Travel Cover revealed that the vast majority of Brits would take a vaccine if they were offered it, especially if it meant that they could travel internationally.
There’s a pent-up demand for travel, which is critical for the recovery of the travel and tourism industry – but how to accommodate this demand without undermining global Covid vaccination efforts and ultimately overcoming the coronavirus pandemic as quickly as possible?