PARIS/SYDNEY (Reuters) - The head of a global travel organisation on Monday opposed making COVID-19 vaccinations a requirement for travellers in the fight against the pandemic, despite scepticism about reaching herd immunity this year.
Several health experts said during the Reuters Next conference that the mass roll-out of coronavirus vaccines would not result in enough people having immunity to be able to effectively stop COVID-19 from spreading.
Some policymakers have proposed immunisation should be compulsory for air travel as the world steps up the battle to curb the spread of COVID-19, and Australia’s Qantas Airways has said it plans to introduce such a requirement.
But Gloria Guevara, chief executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said such moves would be similar to workplace discrimination.
“We should never require the vaccination to get a job or to travel,” Guevara, whose organisation represents a sector accounting for as much as 10% of global employment, told a panel at Reuters Next.
“If you require the vaccination before travel, that takes us to discrimination.”
She was supported by AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes, who said global testing protocols remained key to unlocking travel.
Their comments contrasted with a majority of online panel viewers in a snap poll who supported a vaccine requirement.
The contrasting views highlighted the difficulties reaching agreement on ways to defeat COVID-19 as the death toll from the virus and its economic fallout mount.
More than 90 million people are reported to have been infected by the novel coronavirus globally and about 1.9 million have died from the disease since it first emerged in China in December 2019, according to a Reuters tally.
Countries including the United States, Singapore and European states have begun rolling out vaccines such as those developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, by Moderna and by drugmaker AstraZeneca alongside Oxford University.
Indonesia and India plan to start mass inoculations later this week.
But Dale Fisher, chairman of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Outbreak Alert and Response Network, said: “We won’t get back to normal quickly.”
He was cautious about the chances of countries quickly reaching herd immunity.
“We know we need to get to herd immunity and we need that in a majority of countries, so we are not going to see that in 2021,” Fisher told Reuters Next. “There might be some countries that might achieve it but even then that will not create ‘normal’ especially in terms of border controls.”
That was a best-case scenario, based on current knowledge of the vaccines being rolled out, Fisher said.
Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, told the conference some governments were over-reliant on the coming vaccines and this meant herd immunity could not be achieved in the near term.
Irma Hidayana, the Indonesia-based co-founder of LaporCOVID-19, an independent coronavirus data initiative, said public trust in vaccines could have an impact on the roll-out.
Another problem, Fisher said, was uncertainty about the ability of the virus to mutate further.
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Editing by Timothy Heritage and Alexander Smith
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