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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The six unanswered questions around boosters and travel

When you received a second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, you may have let out a sigh of relief. If nothing else, you would be able to go to your favourite holiday destination once again.

Alas, the latest twist (we didn’t actually think international travel was out of the woods, did we?) is that double vaccination may soon not be enough for us to head overseas. 

In this week’s Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson said: “I think what the general lesson is from anybody who wants to travel, you can see that getting fully vaccinated with a booster is going to be something that will, on the whole, make your life easier in all kinds of ways, including on foreign travel.

“So I would just say, if you’re thinking about that, then this is yet another reason to get it done.”

This echoes what Health Secretary Sajid Javid has suggested in recent weeks. A third dose, it appears, could be required for you to be classed as fully vaccinated.

But many questions remain. Will the Government ever enforce a quarantine on double-jabbed arrivals who have not received a booster? Will other countries ban double-jabbed Britons from entry if we haven’t had a third dose? And when (if ever) will our NHS Covid Pass reflect our full vaccination status? Here, we delve into six unanswered questions about boosters and travel.

If you have any questions of your own, please leave a comment at the bottom of this article.

Will I really need a booster to avoid quarantine after my holiday… or is this another ‘nudge’?

Remember when (at the height of the vaccination campaign) the Government said it would at some point roll out vaccine certificates for certain venues, and then, when it came to it, they did not?

It’s an open secret that throughout the pandemic the Government has been gently “nudging” the population to comply with various rules and requirements through its messaging, and that its latest comments about overseas travel are simply a way to encourage or apply pressure on hesitant folk to take up the offer of a booster.

Richard H Thaler, economist and author of the book Nudge, wrote in the New York Times: “As we define the term, nudges gently guide people without requirements or economic incentives. Informing people about the benefits of vaccinations and making it as easy as possible to get a shot are in this category.”

According to sources from Number 10, the Government is “reviewing the implications and requirements of boosters for international travel certification” and “looking at whether and how booster vaccinations could be included in the NHS Covid Pass for travel”. Whether you interpret this as a genuine threat, or a devious nudge, is up to you.

Will my vaccination status expire in foreign countries?

Some countries are now placing expiry dates on vaccines. Austria and Croatia have issued a deadline of one year after the second dose; however, this has already been extended from 270 days, and could possibly move back again.

Switzerland and Vietnam have also issued one-year expiries on second jabs, and in Israel you must have received your second jab no more than six months previously in order to visit indoor venues in the country.

This week, France announced an expiry date dictating when over 65s are considered to be fully vaccinated. From December 15, a third booster dose will be mandatory for over 65s hoping to visit indoor venues, although two jabs will still be sufficient for over 65s to enter the country.

Will double-jabbed Britons be restricted from entry to countries this winter?

A senior aviation source told Travel Weekly that there is little risk of double-jabbed Britons being restricted from travel in the immediate future.

“Our understanding is the booster shot forms part of being fully vaccinated [without a need for additional certification]. Bringing that in at the current time would mean the majority in the UK would be deemed not fully vaccinated. It doesn’t seem feasible. Look how long it has taken to get to the level of two vaccinations.

“Unless there is international alignment, it would cause all sorts of complexity. One would hope they wait until after the winter.”

They added: “The system feels pretty stable for now. We don’t sense any real concern from ministers. What would create an immediate reaction would be if a new variant appears anywhere.”

If I am unvaccinated, will I need to get two or three jabs to become fully vaccinated?

If you are currently unvaccinated but one day you decide to take up the vaccine, will you need to have two doses or three in order to be considered “fully vaccinated” and therefore, possibly, to travel overseas? This question has not been addressed, but logic suggests that two doses will suffice, with a booster required at a later date.

Will we need to keep getting boosters to travel, ad infinitum?

It is not clear whether top up jabs will continue indefinitely. Research suggests the vaccine wanes around five months after your last shot, so further boosters could well remain for as long as Covid-19 is widespread in the country. If a third dose becomes a requirement for international travel, it would follow that a fourth dose may be required after a certain period. 

When will the NHS app be updated to show boosters?

Those 11 million Britons who have received a booster dose will notice that their third jab is absent from their NHS Covid Pass. The Government has not issued a timeline for when boosters will be added to the app. When quizzed on this at the latest press conference, the Prime Minister said: “I think we will be making plans to add the booster dose to the NHS COVID travel pass.” 

While the third dose is not currently needed to travel anywhere, from December 15 this will be imperative for over 65s looking to prove their vaccination status in France.

It is also currently unknown if and when the whole population will be called up to receive a booster.


Please leave a comment below if you have questions of your own

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