The vaccine is a game changer for international travel
The UK government has announced that it will start rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine next week after a review by the drug regulator.
Other countries will likely follow suit soon and authorize the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination, as well as other candidates. The Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia says that it is still evaluating Pfizer/BioNTech’s data.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, COVID has been touted as our best chance to return to “normal.” This is largely due to the return of international travel.
An effective vaccine will bring this prospect closer. A vaccine will not guarantee a return to safe international travel. Australia and other countries need to take into consideration several other factors.
Travelling internationally in the age when there is a COVID vaccination
We can be confident that international travel will have a significantly lower COVID risk when people are vaccinated prior to boarding the flight. The data that we currently have does not tell us all we need to.
Take the Pfizer/BioNTech as an example. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which was tested on half of the 43,000 participants of their phase 3 study (the other half were given a placebo), has reported a 95% efficacy in preventing symptoms of COVID-19.
The vaccine is safe, with mild side effects in some participants. The study also included participants over 65 years old and with conditions that increase their risk of severe disease.
The study did not report the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing infection, but only symptoms. It’s good to know that a vaccine can prevent people from getting sick. However, it is also important to note that if people are still able to get infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus which causes COVID-19), then they could still spread the disease.
Read more: Pfizer vaccine has just been approved: here’s what the next few months will look like
Ugur Şahin, BioNTech’s cofounder and chief executive, believes the vaccine could reduce transmission by 50%. This puts something of a dampener on vaccination being the key to the safe resumption of international travel.
We also do not know at this time how long the immunity of those who Pfizer/BioNTech has vaccinated will last. As the trial is expected to continue for a few more months, we should have some data available by 2021.
Over time, more information will be revealed about vaccine trials. Shutterstock
We’ll need quarantine because not everyone will get vaccinated immediately.
It will take several months, or more realistically years, to vaccinate everyone who wants to. It’s not realistic to expect everyone who travels internationally to be vaccinated.
It appears that it has never had transmission to the community in several countries. In November, this included a number of Pacific Island nations, including Tonga (Kiribati), Micronesia (Palau, Samoa, and Tuvalu), Kiribati (Micronesia), Samoa, and Tuvalu.
There are also countries with COVID-19 that are under control and have little or no community transmission. Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore are examples.
These countries are low-risk, and people arriving from them in Australia should not be quarantined, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated. It would depend on the epidemic situation in other countries.
Several organizations have developed COVID ratings for different countries or jurisdictions. For example, The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control rates COVID-19 in each European country.
These risk assessments are based on factors such as the 14-day COVID notification rate in each country, the percentage of positive tests, and the death rate.
People from high-risk countries or areas will need to be quarantined upon arrival unless they are vaccinated. Australia is likely to develop a rating system similar to that of the ECDC in order to streamline these decisions.
Read more: Worried about COVID risk on a flight? Here’s what you can do to protect yourself — and how airlines can step up.
Most countries require that you have a COVID certificate showing a negative result before entering the country. Spain, for example, requires that a PCR test is negative later than 72 hours prior to travel.
Some airlines, including Emirates and Etihad, require COVID tests before travel.
The rapid antigen test should also be available at border crossings and airports. These tests are not as accurate as PCR tests, but they would still provide a second confirmation that the traveler did not incubate COVID-19 while on their way to their destination.
Testing is still important even if a passenger has been vaccinated since vaccination does not guarantee that a passenger will be infected or infectious.