WHO restates opposition to travel vaccination requirement

The International Health Regulations (IHR) emergency committee of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has renewed its recommendation “that proof of vaccination should not be a requirement for international travel”.

The IHR emergency committee recommendation, initially made in January, was reviewed at a meeting on April 15 but a statement on the outcome only issued this week.

It came as part of updated guidance from the WHO on reducing travel-related Covid-19 transmission, taking account of “Covid-19 vaccination roll out, immunity conferred by past infection, risk settings, movements of migrants, temporary workers and purpose of travel”.

The committee resolved to “continue to coordinate with stakeholders” including the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and airline association Iata on “travel-related risk reduction measures”.

It also vowed to update the WHO position on proof of vaccination and produce interim guidance on the standardisation of paper and digital documentation of vaccination, testing and Covid-19 recovery status.

However, the committee recommended governments: “Do not require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry, given limited (although growing) evidence about the performance of vaccines in reducing transmission and persistent inequity in global vaccine distribution.”

It warned of “the potential for requirements of proof of vaccination to deepen inequities and promote differential freedom of movement”.

Iata welcomed the recommendations and urged states to comply.

The airline association highlighted the guidance against requiring proof of vaccination saying: “Freedom to travel across borders should not be limited to those able to be vaccinated.”

However, it noted the WHO does “support governments opening borders to those who have been vaccinated” alongside use of testing.

Iata also welcomed an IHR emergency committee call for “coordinated, time-limited, risk-based and evidence-based approaches for health measures in relation to international traffic” and for a reduction in the “financial burden on international travellers for testing, isolation/quarantine and vaccination”.

The association noted: “The requirement for multiple tests for a single journey could easily make flying unaffordable. The same applies to quarantine measures mandated by governments.”

Iata said it “continues to call on governments to work with the industry to establish plans to safely reconnect people and economies via air transport”.

Willie Walsh, Iata director general, said: “Governments should tap into the airline industry’s capabilities to help them implement measures for testing and vaccination that can supersede the blunt instrument of quarantine.”

Walsh added: “Agreement on a digital standard for testing and vaccination documentation is a critical next step.

“Without globally recognised standards to prove that someone has been vaccinated or tested, the potential for frustrated travellers, fraudulent actors and overwhelmed border authorities is very real. Work needs to be accelerated or the eventual restart will be defeated by mountains of paper.”

The IHR repeated a previous recommendation for air crew and seafarers to be among those given priority for vaccination. Iata said it “strongly supports” the recommendation.

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