Health officials warn against rush to vaccine certificates

Health officials warn against rush to vaccine certificates

World Travel & Tourism Council, CC BY 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons

Senior public health officials have cautioned against a rush to introduce vaccination certificates for travellers amid growing concerns about disparities in vaccine distribution.

Dr Ninglan Wong, acting head of border risk dissemination management at the World Health Organisation (WHO), pointed out travellers “are not a priority group for vaccination”.

Addressing a Global Travel Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC) video conference, Dr Wong pointed out: “The WHO advises authorities should not introduce requirements of proof of vaccination for international travel at this time.

“There are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission.”

She added that “preferential vaccination of travellers could result in inadequate supplies for priority populations due to the limited availability of vaccines”.

Dr Lisa Indar, director for disease prevention and control at the Caribbean Public Health Agency CARPHA, agreed.

She told the GTRCMC conference: “We still don’t know vaccination is proven to stop Covid-19. Not all vaccines may prevent spread. We need more evidence of vaccines lowering transmission.

“CARPHA is saying we can’t recommend cessation of quarantine for the vaccinated because there is not enough evidence to say it prevents transmission.”

Edmund Bartlett, the tourism minister of Jamaica and GTRCMC co-chairman, warned the focus on vaccination in developed economies risks “great disparity”.

He said: “We’ve seen a global shift to rapid vaccination and a return to normality is predicated on this. But I have concerns.

“At the rate we’re going it will take five years to cover 75% of the global population with two doses of vaccines.

“Second, there is a great disparity in the global availability of vaccines. Developing countries have received limited vaccine supplies – 130 countries have not been delivered a single dose of vaccine.”

At the same time, he said: “Tourism-dependent economies are seeing three times the impact [of the pandemic].

“Occupancy across the Caribbean in the first two months of this year was 10%-15%. Many hotels and tourist attractions are in danger of falling into insolvency.

“Tourism is an engine of growth in the Caribbean. But we are bleeding and bleeding badly. We need to be thrown a lifeline.

“We must begin to vaccinate all countries and accelerate the vaccination programme.”

The Global Travel Resilience and Crisis Management Centre is based in Kingston Jamaica.

The conference on ‘Restarting economies through tourism: vaccine politics, global priorities and destination realities’ was one in a series of Edmund Bartlett lectures.

However, Gatwick’s boss has said a digital Covid certificate could be the “key to success” if 70% of the airport’s usual traffic is to return after May.

Stewart Wingate told the Guardian that a Covid-certification system seemed inevitable, adding: “It needs to replace testing and quarantine and reduce the restrictions on people to travel. If that were to happen, Gatwick is well poised to react and respond to the pent-up demand that it undoubtedly there.”

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