The COVID-19 vaccine is already being administered in the United Kingdom and is expected to be given the green light in the United States later this week. Our long International nightmare could soon be over. Millions will be vaccinated in short order, but others will not — either through personal choice or on the advice of their doctor.
Last week, a Wheelchair Travel reader messaged me to express concern about the potential for vaccinations to be mandated by cruise lines. He asked:
My wife has SCA and has some mobility with the aid of a forearm walker and a mobility scooter. She also [has an] auto-immune [disorder] and is not compelled to take vaccines. Will cruising make the COVID 19 vaccine a condition of traveling with them and how will auto-immune persons get on? It’s early days about vaccines but now is the time to cancel a cruise if vaccines are made compulsory. Any thoughts?
The CDC has indicated that vaccines are not suitable for every person, particularly those with underlying health conditions. Until guidance for the COVID-19 vaccine is published, it is best not to speculate on which conditions might preclude one from being immunized.
Vaccine requirements are nothing new — children are vaccinated for all manner of diseases and many destinations require a Yellow Fever vaccine, but exceptions have always been made available to high-risk groups. I suspect that will also be the case with the COVID-19 vaccine. As we await clarity, it’s worth taking a look at what travel providers and national governments are saying about potential vaccine mandates.
In much of the world, passengers have been permitted to fly at will, limited only by airline face mask requirements and government travel restrictions. Although it is unlikely that airlines will institute a vaccination requirement for domestic travel, countries certainly could require that International visitors present proof of vaccination.
Alan Joyce, CEO of Australia’s Qantas Airways, said that his airline will enforce a vaccine requirement on its international flights. “Australia’s success at virtually eliminating COVID means we’ll need a vaccine for international travel to restart properly,” he told investors last week. “Australia’s success at virtually eliminating COVID means we’ll need a vaccine for international travel to restart properly.”
Other airlines are likely to await guidance from their national governments before setting a policy. In a statement to CNN, Air New Zealand said that “it’s up to governments to determine when and how it is safe to reopen borders and we continue to work closely with authorities on this.”
No major cruise lines have announced plans to require passengers to take a COVID-19 vaccine. but it remains unclear when sailings will resume. Distribution of the vaccine could take up to a year or more, suggesting to me that a firm requirement instituted by the cruise lines themselves is unlikely.
Individual countries could impose vaccine requirements on visitors, however, which may be something to consider when selecting a cruise itinerary.
Some countries have long required foreign visitors to submit proof of immunization against certain diseases, such as yellow fever. Many governments could institute a similar requirement for the COVID-19 vaccine — likely to remain in effect for several years at least.
Last month, the Health Minister of Australia said that the government would likely require “proof of vaccination” from travelers planning to enter the country. No formal policy has been put forward, but Australia has taken the pandemic more seriously than most other countries by sustaining a months-long ban on international visitors.
Supply bottleneck, slow distribution could make vaccination requirements difficult to justify
Through the Trump Administration’s “Operation Warp Speed,” the United States pre-purchased hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer, Moderna and other drug companies. Other countries that pre-ordered large quantities of the vaccines include the United Kingdom, the European Union (as a bloc), Japan, Vietnam and Australia, among others. As Americans, Europeans and others receive their vaccinations, much of the world will be left waiting while supply is directed to the countries that paid the most and were first in line.
Although the FDA will not approve a vaccine before its committee meeting on December 10th, doses are already being stockpiled. Last week, United Airlines carried the “first mass air shipment” of frozen vials of the vaccine from Brussels, Belgium to the United States. The federal government estimates that the first doses could be administered as early as December 15th.
The imbalance in vaccine distribution around the world could discourage governments from requiring tourists to get the vaccine. In the United States, priority will be given to the elderly and those most at risk for the coronavirus — not younger vacationers or business travelers. The New York Times’ vaccine tool revealed that I will be one of the last Americans to get the vaccine. I’m 31-years-old and have none of the medical conditions deemed to be “high risk.” Countries and destinations will have to consider that the age groups most comfortable about traveling could be without a vaccine until late 2021 — even in a country that is first in line.
We are hopeful that the COVID-19 vaccine will prove to be effective. With the virus under control, travel can resume not only for a select few, but for everyone. As more people begin to take the vaccine, we should gain a clearer picture on mandates issued by destinations and travel providers.