As several vaccines for COVID-19 are rolling out, the question for would-be travelers is, do you need to present proof of vaccination in order to fly? Since most of the world remains unvaccinated, airlines have not been quick to implement a vaccinated-only policy. However, that doesn’t mean that this option is off the table.
Requiring a vaccine to fly may sound like a drastic measure, but this is the worst global pandemic in modern history. There is also some sort of precedent. Certain high-risk countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia require travelers to present proof of specific immunizations before entering the country. Additionally, routine vaccines for tetanus, typhoid, and hepatitis are generally recommended before flying to a different country.
Is there a difference between governments and airlines requiring certain vaccines? Not really. The difference, however, would be if all airlines require it, making the world inevitably untouchable for anyone who doesn’t receive the vaccine. Even though specific countries require certain immunizations, travelers have the option to go to different countries. It’s not a worldwide ban.
The Vaccine-Travel Debate in Europe
Since the vaccine is only in its initial stages of rollout, European governments disagree on what the protocol should be. Countries dependent on tourism are in favor of requiring a vaccine to travel. They hope that this way, international borders will reopen and their floundering tourism industries can pick up.
Secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Zurab Pololikashvili, has called for countries to require vaccination certificates and let those who have them enter.
On the other side of the table are EU privacy activists and epidemiologists. The first group says that the requirement of vaccination certificates would infringe on the privacy of individuals and would be yet another step in the governmental digitization of personal health data. The second group is concerned that a vaccination certificate isn’t enough — people who have received vaccinations may still be able to spread the virus.
Another question that comes up is: what about people who receive vaccines that aren’t approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA)? Hungary, for example, has purchased Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which has not yet been approved
Is a Compromise Possible?
The prime minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has said that it’s important to differentiate between a vaccination certificate and travel authorization. He supports the creation of vaccination certificates as a way of fast-tracking those who have received the vaccine through customs. Those who haven’t been vaccinated will still be able to travel, but they won’t have the same fast-track option. They will also need to get tested before entering the country.
While this sounds like a middle-of-the-ground plan that can appeal to groups with varying interests, it still needs to be accepted. As of now, the Australian national carrier Qantas is the only airline that has announced its intention to require international travelers to present proof of vaccination.