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What Is a vaccine passport and will cruise passengers have to get one?

January 29, 2021 Cruise News, Headline News No Comments

According to report by Aaron Saunders in Cruise Critic, a vaccination passport may be required for cruisers in the future.

He asks the question: Do you have a yellow card with your passport?

Responding: Many cruisers don’t, but people who have travelled by air or land to areas with higher risks of disease are familiar with this small immunization document that is usually kept tucked in your passport.

Formally known as the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP), this signed, stamped yellow card is traditionally given to people by their travel medicine doctors after receiving various vaccines – most notably yellow fever, but also for other diseases such as cholera, rabies or Japanese encephalitis.

They were created by the World Health Organization (WHO) and are accepted as formal proof of vaccination at entry points around the world.

With COVID-19 vaccinations underway, people are wondering if similar proof of protection against the disease could lead to a “vaccine passport,” of sorts, which would allow travellers to return to global free movement.

Ideally the new coronavirus version of the yellow card would be electronic, to dissuade forgery.

From individual countries to individual airlines, chatter about vaccine passports is more than just idle talk. Even in this early stage, it isn’t a matter of if they will be rolled out, but rather when.

In the United States, the country’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, stated that “everything will be on the table for discussion” when asked by members of the media about the possibility for vaccination passports and even mandatory vaccinations at a local level.

Fauci stopped short of a federal vaccination mandate for U.S. citizens, but stated that proof of COVID-19 vaccination would likely be required in the future for certain organizations, companies or even hospitals.

On January 12, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced

it would mandate COVID-19 PCR tests for all international travellers, including U.S. citizens, flying inbound into the United States from abroad.

That same system could eventually mandate the requirement for coronavirus vaccines as well. Currently, even vaccinated inbound travellers will have to show proof of a COVID-negative PCR test under the CDC’s guidance.

The growing availability of vaccinations does not mean that requirements for COVID-19 PCR testing are going away, however. Instead, resources are being deployed to handle both testing and vaccination capabilities within the United States and beyond.

“Testing (COVID-19 PCR) is not going to go away, probably for at least 12 months, if not 18,” says Josh Walker, co-founder and COO at Utah-based Nomi Health, which provides COVID-19 testing services for a number of states and locations like Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport and PortMiami.

Adding, “Sites are being expanded where a portion of the site will continue to do testing and the other component, the other side of the site, will be doing vaccine deployment.”

He said, Getting access to those vaccines is likely to become easier as the year goes on, and more vaccines are delivered,” and “In many states now, we have expanded our testing services into vaccine deployment”.

“What seems to be emerging is we are one of the leaders of the pack in Miami-Dade, around their ability to quickly deploy vaccines in a comprehensive manner.”

In November, the Danish government began work on a digital COVID-19 vaccine passport that would function not only as proof of vaccination for travel, but also for large-scale activities like concerts and events, as well as a condition of access to various business,  The passport is expected to be rolled out across Denmark during the first half of 2021.

“It is expected that there may be requirements from other countries to present vaccine documentation upon entry. A Danish vaccine passport can be used here,” the Danish Health Ministry told Reuters in a statement on January 8.

Germany, meanwhile, has updated its conditions of entry for air travellers, which are now required to present either a COVID-19 negative PCR test; proof of COVID-19 vaccination; or proof of a past COVID-19 infection between 21 days and six months prior, according to Lufthansa.

There is also increasing guidance from airlines that proof of COVID-19 vaccination may eventually be required, at least for international travel.

QANTAS announced in November that proof of vaccination would likely be required for passengers arriving into and departing internationally from Australia.

QANTAS isn’t alone in its thinking. Several airlines, including Lufthansa, Swiss, United, Virgin Atlantic and Jet Blue, have already rolled out a shared digital app

called CommonPass to jointly share COVID-19 PCR test results for passengers. The system could be used to verify digital proof of COVID-19 vaccination as well.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is also in the process of developing a separate digital pass system that will display PCR and vaccination results from passengers to airlines and relevant government authorities.

Not everyone agrees, however. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) issued a statement

 noting it does not support the practice of opening borders to vaccinated travellers, while keeping them shut for others, with WTTC president and CEO Gloria Guevara saying, “It will take a significant amount of time to vaccinate the global population, particularly those in less advanced countries, or in different age groups,” adding, “Therefore, we should not discriminate against those who wish to travel but have not been vaccinated.”

On January 14, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also signalled he would likely not make a national vaccination passport mandatory.

What Cruise Lines and Passengers Are Saying About Vaccine Passports

Cruise line executives have hinted that COVID-19 vaccines represent a path to restarting operations, at a bare minimum for all crewmembers onboard.

“The arrival of highly efficacious vaccines is a game-changer,” said Royal Caribbean chairman and CEO Richard Fain in a video.

“Previously, we expected cruising to resume based on creating a virtual bubble of safety on the ship, even if the rest of the country was experiencing significant spread. Vaccines change all that.

“Today we envision that the key — but not the exclusive factor — will be the vaccines rather than purely the protocols.”

On Cruise Critic’s message boards, would-be passengers tend to agree that COVID-19 vaccines represent a step in the right direction.

“We used to carry a yellow booklet with records of vaccinations in our passports, and they were checked by officials when entering many countries,” writes moviela.

“Polio, Cholera, MMR, and Yellow Fever were required in Europe and Africa, and most countries in South America. I don’t know why Covid19 could not be accounted in a similar way.”

Other posters pointed to the delay in rolling out new requirements within the United States, such as the switchover to Real-ID for air travel, that could potentially complicate the rollout of vaccination requirements for domestic cruises.

“How many times has Real-ID implementation been delayed?” writes jfunk138.  “It is very hard to get widespread compliance with paperwork requirements like this.”

On a thread started on the Royal Caribbean boards back in July 2020, debate has raged on about the pros and cons of requiring passengers to be vaccinated.

“Currently children under 16 can’t get the vaccine,” writes MaddyandMax. “Do you think children will be barred from cruises for the foreseeable future until that either changes or we have “herd immunity” (if that ever happens).”

Other suggest that the decision may be out of the cruise line’s hands entirely.

“There really is no way that the cruise line cannot require a vaccine if any of the ports have that requirement,” writes ontheweb. “The logistics of who can get off and who cannot, would just be too complicated.”

An informal poll of respondents taken on the same thread, however, suggests that 76.66% of cruisers are willing to be vaccinated in order to set sail with just 23.34% say they are not willing to be vaccinated in order to cruise again.

While it appears increasingly likely that COVID-19 vaccinations will be required for at least some forms of travel and destinations, it is still too early to say what the broader impact will be on the cruise industry within the United States, and around the world.

With vaccine policies and rollout varying by country and even at state and provincial levels, it could be some time before the majority of potential cruise passengers would be eligible for vaccination.

Cruise Critic will monitor this subject and update this article as new information becomes available.

An edited report from Cruise Critic by John Alwyn-Jones

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