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COVID-19 Vaccines’ International Incompatibility Impedes Global Travel Sector’s Restart

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) is warning that the efficacious restart of international travel post-COVID is at risk, due to the lack of worldwide reciprocal recognition of the various approved COVID-19 vaccines.

The WTTC, whose members represent the global private Travel & Tourism sector, is issuing this admonition following reports of travelers being turned away at borders because the world’s nations do not share or accept a common list of internationally recognized COVID-19 vaccines.

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The global tourism body said that, over the past few weeks, vaccinated tourists have increasingly found themselves barred from entry into foreign countries because the batch or brand of vaccine they received isn’t recognized at their destination. Some have been stopped from boarding their flights to foreign destinations in the first place.

WTTC said a lack of international coordination, in terms of agreeing upon a universally accepted list of the world’s various approved COVID-19 vaccines, is creating a serious obstacle to achieving any appreciable restart of international travel.

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Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.

While they may differ by chemical composition or manufacturer, most of these vaccine types have secured the approval of regulatory health agencies, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) or Stringent Regulatory Authorities (SRAs), the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the U.S.’ Food and Drug Administration, or the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Travelers are increasingly being turned away at borders because their vaccination documents list an ‘unrecognized’ vaccine type or even the ‘wrong’ vaccine batch. Days ago, a number of British tourists who had been inoculated with an Indian-made batch of Oxford/AstraZeneca’s ‘Covishield’ were denied entry into Malta, despite the fact that the vaccine is chemically identical to the U.K.-made version and that it’s already E.U.-approved.

The WTTC says that this is deterring consumers from booking foreign travel, which further harms the already foundering Travel & Tourism industry. The organization is calling for reciprocal recognition of all vaccines and vaccine batches among Earth’s countries, and has created four new guidelines aimed at safely resuming international mobility. In doing so, the world could both kick-start global economic recovery, and preserve the millions of jobs and livelihoods that depend upon the sector.

WTTC’s Senior Vice President Virginia Messina said: “Reciprocal recognition of all vaccine types and batches is essential if we are to avoid any further unnecessary and damaging delay to restarting international travel.

“The failure of countries to agree on a common list of all approved and recognized vaccines is of huge concern to WTTC, as we know everyday travel is curbed, more cash-strapped Travel & Tourism businesses face even greater strain, pushing ever more to the brink of bankruptcy.

“We can avoid this by having a fully recognized list of all the approved vaccines—and vaccine batches—which should be the key to unlocking international travel, not the door to preventing it.

“It will also give holidaymakers and travelers the confidence they need to book trips, flights and cruises, confident in the knowledge that their fully-vaccinated status will be internationally recognized.”

The WTTC’s new guidelines for safely restoring international mobility, while also safeguarding public health, include:

—Appropriately reduced protocols for vaccinated travelers, including no need for testing or quarantine for those fully vaccinated. Global recognition for international travel of all vaccines authorized for use, and deemed safe and effective by the WHO, or by the WHO-recognized stringent regulatory authorities (SRAs).

—A data-driven, risk-based and internationally harmonized approach to re-establishing freedom of movement, that is consistent across countries, easy to communicate and clearly understood by travelers.

—Global adoption of ‘digital health passes’, which enable travelers to easily obtain and verify their vaccination status, negative COVID test result or natural immunity from a previous infection. These must work with existing border control and travel operator systems accepted by all countries. Digital verification of a traveler’s COVID status prior to travel will avoid lengthy and unsafe queues in transport hubs and terminals.

—Continued implementation of high-quality health and safety standards throughout all areas of the Travel & Tourism sector, including continued adoption of the WTTC’s Safe Travel Protocols and Safe Travel Stamp, with the continued wearing of face masks in crowded and enclosed areas, as well as on all forms of public transport.

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