Coronavirus Vaccines: the Passport to Safely Restarting Global Travel?

26 May 2021 by Olga Brighton

Travel Information

This last year saw our holidays and trips cancelled and deferred. Now as Spring begins to break on a new year, all eyes look ahead to when we can re-book those trips and holiday plans. 

Many in the Travel and Tourism industry are calling for standardised testing protocols and a vaccination passport to help kickstart safe travel again. Will this signal a return to international tourism?

It is difficult to imagine the world’s airlines surviving another year like 2020, so it’s not surprising many are betting on Covid vaccinations and some kind of vaccination passport to restart international travel. This includes two of Europe’s largest airlines, British Airways and Ryanair, who will permit passengers who provide Covid vaccination and test-results alongside the usual passport and visa information, during the book process. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents almost 300 airlines and 82% of total air traffic, has also proposed an IATA digital platform Travel Pass, to inform about Covid travel requirements, test availability and facilitate sharing passenger tests and vaccination results safely. Other organisations that have joined the call for some kind of vaccine passport and unified testing approach for travel include The World Travel and Tourism Council and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

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Many Governments remain undecided and are reviewing whether a vaccine certificate system is the way to go. Proposals could see a standardised international digital certification system for Covid-19 vaccinations. UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili when speaking at the Global Tourism Crisis Committee, in Madrid during January, said, “…the restart of tourism cannot wait. (Covid) Vaccines must be part of a wider, coordinated approach that includes certificates and passes for safe cross-border travel.”

Read also: Coronavirus and Travel Insurance

Is a vaccine passport the answer?

Most of us need to travel at some point – to visit family and loved ones, to work or take a well-earned holiday. A Digital vaccination passport could be a potential fast track to reboot a new version of travel-normality. In fact the concept of a vaccine passport is not new. Proof-of-immunisation programmes have been used for many years in relation to cholera, yellow fever, typhus and rubella, overseen by the World Health Organization and some countries still require this prior to permitting entry. However, there is no coordinated international vaccine passport system in place yet and there are a myriad of items to address prior to any consensus on implementation.

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What are the disadvantages with a vaccine passport?

These include objections to digitalised ‘health passport’ adversely impacting civil liberties - some see the system as an afront to personal freedom and privacy. Others have human rights concerns that this could mean preferential treatment for those with better access to vaccines. In addition to disadvantaging non-vulnerable groups, such as generations X and Z and millennials who will be last to receive a vaccine. Plus populations in countries who are slower, or lacking in economic means to roll out a timely vaccine programme.

Consumers may also find that without proof of vaccination, that travel is severely restricted. This may even impact your ability to obtain insurance from some companies. Some EU based travel insurance companies have indicated that if the EU makes vaccination a mandatory entry requirement, they may update their policy terms accordingly. Also some travel companies have already made vaccines compulsory for travel, including Saga, who require cruise passengers to have received both vaccines before departure. Its possible that major tour companies and tourist attractions could do the same.

Countries who rely heavily on tourism, such as Greece are in favour of establishing a common vaccination certificate and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen also supports the idea for the EU.

Read also: Travelling by Plane After Coronavirus Lockdown

What are the advantages of opening-up safe travel?

The advantages of re-starting safe and responsible travel are endless. On a personal level we can finally see much missed family and friends in person; recommence expanding our horizons; restart our work and begin projects put on hold and economies can begin to recover and rebuild after the worst global economic crisis since the 1930’s. Many EU countries are also used to the concept of ID Cards, so a 'vaccine passport' could be seen as a similar model. 

When its permissible for you to travel according to your Government advice and wherever you can travel, the advice from travel experts is to buy travel insurance at the same time as you book your trip. Many providers, including Globelink now have certain Coronavirus cover, including emergency medical expense and cancellation cover if you or travel companions get COVID. Do not expect to readily find Travel Insurance that covers cancellation for Covid lockdowns. Purchase insurance that suits your requirements and this will form part of your safe travel plans.

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