Is the COVID vaccine the panacea to all our travel ills? This is a great question. I think we have all started thinking that life and normality are just around the corner. But, as we rub our hands in anticipation for that unfettered international roaming freedom of movement that has been suffocated for 9+ months, we first need to pause a moment and look at the realities.
Some hard facts:
There are things currently that scientists cannot determine:-
It is all very well being able to fly from your home nation but what do you need to have for the destination? Again, an unanswered question. Will countries open up to only those travelers who have been vaccinated? Or will an official verification of negative COVID be enough?
The COVID Vaccine Quandry
The travel industry is having a bit of a challenge over the issue. Should the coronavirus vaccine be a mandatory standard for all international travelers?
Australia’s Qantas airlines has already said that it would most likely require passengers to have proof of a COVID19 vaccination before boarding and flying internationally.
The chances are that countries across the world who rely on tourism but are not willing gamble with importing the virus may go the same route as Qantas.
The problem here is that it will be a long while until the populations across the globe are vaccinated. So what to do?
A solution to stimulate travel with the COVID vaccine
I would suggest that vaccinations should become mandatory for all international travelers. It is vital that the front line workers, elderly and high risk groups get their vaccinations first, however. That priority is non-negotiable to my mind.
For the sake of mitigating the spread, improving the experience of travel and saving the livelihoods and the GNP’s of reliant global economies in tourism, a measure should be taken.
As was with travel immunizations for Yellow Fever and the like, Travel centers could inoculate those who have confirmed travel arrangements.
The caveat here would be that the vaccination would have to be paid for and not be part of the free vaccination government programs. So, you would, in effect, be paying a premium for getting your shots sooner.
The ethical question
Now of course, this will bring up some ethical questions. My proposal would mean that those with money – the wealthy, could buy a place in the line while others less fortunate would be at the back of the queue. It’s a tough call.
The argument here can only be economic prudence. The fact that 10 million jobs worldwide in the hospitality industry have been lost or severely affected and the many more millions living in countries that are in economic crisis due to the lack of tourism are suffering, may alleviate the negative of traveler priority against the positive of saving industry and millions of livelihoods.
It is the balance of two needs. But this ‘travel COVID vaccine’ distribution would have to be considered carefully.
Also, people may refuse a COVID vaccine on religious or other health issue grounds. So, certainly, it is challenging to find a one size fits all solution.
Some travel experts argue that mandatory COVID vaccines for travelers would be a deterrent to travel – just as negative, in fact, as lock downs were on the industry.
Frankly, I am no expert, but I must disagree. Since the news of vaccine release, interest in travel has skyrocketed – higher than pre-Covid levels. People are desperate to get out and do what they love – travel! For the majority, it seems, getting the 2 shots of vaccine for freedom to travel is a great trade-off.
The fact that you would be paying for the COVID vaccine, does make it a little more palatable. It’s an idea at least, and certainly would be a massive stimulus to the tourism industry.
Digital Health Passports
Here is another method that may be introduced. Already the market is seeing these digital health apps appear. IATA is working on its own digital passport. Named the IATA Travel Pass, which should be available in the next few months.
Other apps come from companies such as CLEAR. This a company well known for allowing clients to get through airport security more quickly.
The app links biometric information to certified documents, like health questionnaires, vaccination records, temperature checks, and COVID tests. CommonPass, is another such app available.
But The Travel Medical Apps have a downside: Aside from a completed vaccination, the results of a COVID test would be the only other way to determine if the traveler is not a risk.
The problem is, with the COVID test by itself, it needs to be taken 72 hours before travel and there is no guarantee that the person had not contracted the virus after the test. This means a risk of spread to the host country.
The Efficacy of the COVID Vaccine
Percentages all range in the 90-95% efficacy effect in Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca. But, of course we do not know what the vaccines of any of these do in terms of:
• Does it just protect the recipient or does it also stop that recipient being contagious and asymptomatic?
It seems that results are a bit foggy on this. The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine claims: “Early indication is that the vaccine could reduce virus transmission from an observed reduction in asymptomatic infections.”.
This translates into the possibility the vaccinated patients had fewer asymptomatic infections, meaning they would be less likely to unwittingly spread the disease themselves.
There are other vaccines in Stage 3 testing that will come onto market if approved.
Perhaps these may also pave the way to faster rollout and mass availability. These other vaccines include Johnson & Johnson’s Adenovirus COVID vaccine and the Novavax protein vaccine.
Worldwide we also have the Russian and Chinese vaccines in limited use and testing stages.
How about another focus?
Perhaps, now that we have a protection against the virus, we need to re-focus all energy on the treatment?
Defense is a good strategy but a proactive approach to a cure would be better. If we could develop an effective treatment that would relegate the virus to a treatable disease, our problems would be over.
This would then become an irritant like the flu and not a life-threatening illness. It is not fantasy to consider such an instance.
Currently monoclonal antibodies has shown some limited signs of effectiveness is saving lives and avoiding hospitalization. But the percentages of success are intolerably low.
There is also the treatment of COVID19 with Convalescent plasma —plasma from recovered patients which has some success – possibly shortening the length or reducing the severity of the disease.
Back in October 2020, the FDA approved the antiviral drug Remdesivir to treat COVID-19. Clinical trials suggest that in these patients, Remdesivir may modestly speed up recovery time.
But, again, it is not proven to be a substantial cure.
However, with these and other methodologies of treatment, the path is being created to get to a point when we can be assured of recovery if we contracted the virus.
The challenge with any anti-viral drug is that it must be capable of targeting a specific life cycle of the virus and to ‘kill’ the virus without destroying the human cell in which it is occupying.
Viruses are proven to be super intelligent and are highly adapted to mutate by changing the genetic information they hold. This means they can quickly reproduce and develop a resistance to any vaccine or drugs that science develops.
However, nothing is hopeless. Science has the promise and will no doubt work hard at combating the virus beyond a vaccine.
And what of travels immediate future and how we do it?
Sadly, we will have to stick with our precautions in the short term until we know that we’re not carriers transporting the virus and infecting others.
Vaccinated, our immunity will not necessarily release us from the potential of infecting others. Therefore, we all will remain with masks, social distancing and hand washing for what is likely most, if not all of 2021.
Tourism will have to adapt and create safety protocols that protect but do not invade the enjoyment of travelers.
Smart innovation is being introduced and I am happy to say that Viking Cruises, the company I work for, is streaks ahead of most. I will be exploring this and detailing the measures taken in my next post.
The COVID vaccine will make a difference for sure. At the moment we wait to see how much of a difference that will be.
Imagine reaching “Normality” as though it were the Emerald City of Oz. For now, we all will have to follow the yellow brick road.
But happily, at least we have found that road….
Please share your opinions in the comment box at the bottom of the page.. I would love to hear your thoughts..