Frequently asked questions about the Covid-19 vaccine and travel
When will a Covid-19 vaccine become widely available?
Each country will have its own Covid-19 vaccine approval and roll out plans, which will be dependent on their regulatory processes, the doses of vaccine each country has obtained, and their logistical capabilities.
The U.K. gave regulatory approval to a vaccine manufactured by Pfizer/BioNTech at the end of November and has begun the process of vaccinating its most vulnerable citizens. U.S. authorities met on 10 December to decide whether to approve the vaccine, while EU officials, whose decision will apply to the Schengen states (who will have their own roll-out plans), will do so at the end of December. Other vaccines are also awaiting regulatory approval. You should check government advice in your home country as to when and how these vaccines will be available.
Regulators approving a vaccine is only the first step in the process of ensuring individuals are vaccinated against Covid-19. The U.K.’s plan, for example, will only see the most vulnerable and key workers vaccinated in the first stages of the country’s vaccine roll-out, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that it may be many months (spring to summer 2021) until mass vaccination is available. Other countries will likely face a similar timescale in rolling out their vaccination programs. More vaccines gaining widespread regulatory approval will speed up the process, especially those that are cheaper and easier to store, as these will be easier to distribute in poorer, more populous countries.
Will I be able to travel to the EU without a vaccine?
Current restrictions mean the EU and countries within it only allow non-essential travel from places with low infection rates. However, some EU states allow travel from countries on the restricted list of states if a person has tested negative and taken extensive precautionary measures, such as quarantine, to ensure that they are not infected. You do not currently need to prove you have been vaccinated against Covid-19 to travel. Restrictions also do not apply to healthcare professionals, health researchers, and elderly care professionals, frontier workers, seasonal workers in agriculture, transport personnel, diplomats, staff of international organizations, military personnel, humanitarian aid workers, civil protection personnel in the exercise of their functions, passengers in transit, passengers traveling for imperative family reasons, seafarers, persons in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons, those traveling for the purpose of study, and highly qualified workers if their presence is essential.
Plans for how this applies to vaccines are yet to be announced, but it is reasonable to expect that countries where mass vaccination has successfully taken place will be removed from the list of countries with tough travel restrictions and that those who can provide proof of vaccination may be exempted from restrictions by states that do so for those who can prove negative tests and precautionary measures. Officials’ plans for how vaccination can be used to open up travel may also be affected by data on how vaccines affect the transmission of Covid-19 as well as immunity.
You can learn more about travel restrictions applying to the EU, here : https://ec.europa.eu/info/live-work-travel-eu/coronavirus-response/travel-during-coronavirus-pandemic_en
Will I need to obtain a ‘vaccination passport’ to travel?
The Australian airline Qantas has suggested it may need to see an "immunity passport" showing a traveler either has natural immunity or has been vaccinated before passengers are allowed onboard their flights. However, governments are yet to announce plans for official ‘vaccination passports’ or whether they will accept third-party versions of these. Questions over the viability of a global database for vaccinations and privacy issues mean the implementation of an international ‘vaccine passport’ system is unlikely in the near future.
However, as stated above, proof you have been vaccinated against Covid-19 via your medical records or registration schemes may become a condition of travel from some countries once vaccinations have been rolled out - but the pandemic is still ongoing. Several countries, including the U.S. and U.K., are planning to provide those receiving the vaccine with cards stating they have been vaccinated, but these will not operate as ‘passports’. Private companies may of course set their own policies on proof of vaccination.
Could vaccination become a condition of obtaining a Schengen Visa?
Despite speculation that EU officials might change visa rules to incorporate vaccination into the visa application process, they have confirmed that there are no plans to do so as part of the Schengen Visa application. Instead, policies on admittance during the pandemic have been dealt with using temporary travel restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic - which will only be fully lifted as it abates. This may be subject to change, but vaccine policies are decided on a country by country basis.
Will I need to obtain the vaccine to gain medical and travel insurance?
AXA and other major insurers do not currently insist on policyholders taking the vaccine should it become available. Future policies may be subject to change, however, when vaccines become widely available. For example, insurers often require those who are traveling to parts of the world where tropical diseases are prevalent to take advantage of medical vaccines available, or they may be in breach of their medical insurance. Even if similar provisions are brought in for Covid-19, however, there will be exemptions for those such as infants, pregnant women, and the immunocompromised who are unable to have a vaccine. Once vaccines become widely available, it would be wise to check the wording of any new policy with AXA or your insurer to see if not getting vaccinated when it is easy to do so could violate your policy.