With vaccines coming, already we have visions of people with virus immunity, flocking in the beaches next summer. But that will call for some preparation. And perhaps this time authorities will coordinate enough to make it work.
Airline CEOs have welcomed the news of successful vaccine trials with varying degrees of enthusiasm. But they know that there are a lot of hurdles to deal with, before the public can use vaccines, get immunity and travel.
Firstly, there is logistics. Vaccines will first need to go to those that need them most, and then those who want to travel. It now seems that transportation will require very low temperatures. This will put extraordinary demands on freight, both in the air and on the ground. Hopefully decentralization of production will help, a lot. But that’s another logistical obstacle, that also needs time.
Beyond that, there is some administration. Specifically, authorities will need to know which passengers are immune and can travel safely. So instead of whole flights with negative Covid tests, we will see whole flights with immunity certifications. And, possibly, negative Covid tests.
There are some issues with this. Earlier this year, passengers in the United States complained about airlines asking for medical information. As in most countries, in the US this information is private and privileged. Frankly this was part of an anti-masker campaign, so it didn’t go far.
However a new campaign to provide airlines and other travel authorities of your vaccination history, might go differently. But it probably won’t. That’s because airlines don’t want to know about our vaccines, only out immunity. It may seem like a trivial point but immunity could come from reasons other than vaccines.
In a Simple Flying interview, Lufthansa’s senior director of product management for ground and digital services Mr Bjoern Becker, gave some clues of what to expect. In essence, immunity documentation would replace negative testing documentation. Or the two could be alternatives.
“Many, many governments are looking into this, currently. And then, as soon as we have more and more people who are immune because of the vaccine or because they have already been ill, this whole immunity passport will come up. But as you know, there’s also a society discussion going on and a political discussion going on, whether this immunity will be used or immunity information will be used for these kinds of services. I’m not quite sure where this goes, but I’m pretty sure that we will see fully-tested flights and/or the people on the flight must be either tested or immune”, Becker said.
Ideally of course all this would be irrelevant by summer. If vaccinations are quick and an overwhelming majority of holidaymakers have immunity, we should be safe. Further paperwork won’t be necessary, if people also use masks when travelling through summer. But people like Mr Becker know enough about admin and logistics, to take the belt-and-braces approach.
Until that happens, airlines are desperately pushing for standardization of testing. Lufthansa supports antibody pre-flight testing in Germany and elsewhere. This is not as certain as PCR testing, but it’s much faster and cheaper. And ironically, with immunity through vaccination, antibody testing could continue having a role. Only, the desired result would be the reverse of what it is now.
Crucially, authorities will need to prepare early. For Immunity passports to work, countries must agree on how to set them up on time and use them.