Vaccination to be compulsory for Qantas international flights

COVID-19 vaccination will be a mandatory travel requirement for Qantas international flights.

By David Flynn, December 3 2020
Vaccination to be compulsory for Qantas international flights

Qantas says that a COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory for all Australians flying overseas with the airline once international travel returns in 2021.

Exceptions would likely be made for New Zealand and potentially other countries involved in a COVID-safe ‘travel bubble’, along with passengers who qualify for a medical exemption.

"Australia’s success at virtually eliminating COVID means we’ll need a vaccine for international travel to restart properly," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said during a market update this morning."

"Once a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available, it will be a requirement for travel on our international services."

Compulsory vaccination won’t be required for domestic Qantas flights.

Joyce allowed that flights to New Zealand “will probably be exempt given their success at controlling COVID,” while “there will be some exceptions for people who can’t, for medical reasons, take vaccines.”

However, in light of delays to the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble due to sudden outbreaks in Hong Kong, Joyce suggested that vaccinations might arrive before some travel bubble mechanisms are put in place.

"The potential for vaccines to be rolled out maybe faster than the bubbles happening is probably real at this stage."

No jab, no fly...

While Joyce said he acknowledged that “some people are opposed to vaccines in-principle… we ask everyone who travels on Qantas and Jetstar to respect our safety protocols – which will include a COVID vaccine for international flights, at least until the pandemic is under control overseas.”

Also read: Australian approval of Pfizer vaccine expected next month

Joyce also cited widespread support for mandatory international vaccination among the airline’s passengers, saying that a recent poll indicated 87% were willing to take the vaccine if it was required to travel internationally, while “85% thought it should be required for travel to at least some countries.”

Qantas won't be alone in this, with Joyce says governments and airlines around the world are “moving in that direction.”

“And that’s not unprecedented: for yellow fever and polio for a number of countries you need a vaccine passport, a little yellow book which the World Health Organisation issues, in order to get into those countries.”

Digital vaccination passport

The airline is currently working with other carriers and the industry as to what form this ‘COVID vaccination passport’ would take, such as a digital travel pass app.

“The Government is working through how vaccines will be registered technically and how a digital passport and digital requirements will be managed, but we have a humber of months before detail needs tot be finalised.”

Also read: Airline 'travel pass' app will show COVID test results, vaccination

Australia’s National Vaccination Policy has also suggested that visitors to Australia may be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, although Joyce said that “it will become a binary choice for international travellers to either get the vaccine or quarantine for two weeks. And quarantine places are very limited.”

Domestic travel uptick

On the domestic front, as states continue to reopen their borders, Joyce repeated his call to establish a “national framework” to deal with COVID testing, defining hotspots and triggering travel restrictions

This would be “a set of rules that reflects our confidence in the testing and tracing systems that have worked so well in New South Wales in particular, so that we’re not faced with borders slamming shut again.”

The combined domestic capacity of Qantas and Jetstar now stands at 68% of pre-COVID levels for December, with Joyce targetting of 80% by March 2021.

“There’s been a rush of bookings as each border restriction lifted, showing that there’s plenty of latent travel demand across both leisure and business sectors.”

“We’re also seeing people booking several months in advance, which reflects more confidence than we’ve seen for some time.”

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2442

Comments on this article are being held for moderation: readers are asked to ensure their comments are considered, informed and add value to the conversation (ie, no anti-vaxxer rants).

To be honest I don't mind this, If it gives more people confidence to travel then go for it. Put the vaccinations concerns aside what would be the policy be for people who have contracted Covid-19 already? will they also be required to  get a vaccination or will they be marked as a having it previously. 

16 Jan 2018

Total posts 111

Based on the rate of reinvention you’d think that they would also be required to take the vaccine. But yes agreed that the vaccine is going to be necessary and at least for a few years, governments around the world are going to impose entry requirements such as having taken the vaccine to enter, and proof of doing so. 

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1219

Deli the evidence is that the immunity is not for very long, so jab may be required.

03 Feb 2018

Total posts 72

patrickk

"Deli the evidence is that the immunity is not for very long, so jab may be required."

I agree with you that the jab may well still be required for individuals who've recovered from COVID infection. But I dispute your interpretation of the evidence with respect to length of immunity. Are you suggesting that the evidence is that antibodies don't last long term? Yep.

But the question isn't - how long do the antibodies last? Antibodies are just one aspect of the body's adaptive immune system.

Antibodies are produced in response to an invading pathogen. When that pathogen hasn't been around for a while, the body doesn't need the antibodies and they die off. This isn't unique to SARS-CoV-2. To my (layperson's) knowledge, it happens with most, if not all, infections. A lack of antibodies doesn't mean that the individual doesn't have long-term immunity.

The question is - for how long can the adaptive immune system recognise the pathogen and, in response, produce the correct antibodies (among other things)? Antibodies are produced by Memory B cells. You also need Memory T cells to destroy the pathogen. So the follow-up question is - for how long does the body retain a sufficient quantity of Memory T and B cells for SARS-CoV-2?

The answer? Too early to tell. But looking at people who had been infected with SARS-CoV-1 in the early/mid 2000s, they still have the memory cells to recognise SARS-CoV-1. So that bodes well, at any rate.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1219

Sq thanks for such a nuanced response. You are probably right but it may become quite mild as in another corona virus cold or it may require an annual jab like for the flu because it mutates slightly but enough to trigger a more serious response. It may take a few years to work this out.

11 Jul 2020

Total posts 70

I think you will find no international travel insurance policies will cover you for hospitization if you do not have the covid-19 vaccine and you become infected with the  covid-19 virus and require  hospitalization when you are overseas. It will be a very expensive decision not to have the vaccine prior to travelling overseas should you become infected and end up in hospital. We might even see airlines refusing to board you on overseas flights if you cannot prove that you have had the covid-19 vaccine.

05 May 2016

Total posts 600

Even if you are vaccinated I suspect a lot of travel insurance will either not cover COVID claims or have higher premiums/excess for such coverage.

08 May 2020

Total posts 17

Great that we’re starting to get some details.  I think this is totally fair, after at risks have had a jab, perhaps they can offer access to a paid route to ensure travellers can have a no hassle vaccination 4 weeks before travel)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2019

Total posts 20

Those old enough to remember will recall the little grey vaccination book one had to carry to undertake international travel. While not buying into pro or anti vax positions, this policy is soundly based in logic: Most particularly as one with no Covid vaccination probably will not have to go into quarantine on the returning to Australia.  

JTG
JTG

Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 46

I am a little disappointed about how slow governments and airline groups have been in developing the vaccine passport. People around the world will start to be vaccinated in the next couple of weeks, yet we don't have a date when the vaccine passport will be adopted

07 May 2019

Total posts 8

I 100% agree with having to be vaccinated for Covid 19 for international flying. You wouldn't go to certain countries without Yellow fever or Hep A and B etc. I don't see this as any different.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2442

Several comments regarding vaccines and their effectiveness have been removed, in the interest of avoiding seeing this comment thread turn into yet another round of endless back-and-forth on the same topic/s which have to date been given plenty of air in comments under previous articles regarding vaccines. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 574

Whilst I am personally in favour of the proposed vaccine(s), I am concerned regarding the 'policy' position that Alan Joyce appears to be adopting here. I have a feeling that some enterprising individual will challenge this in court - and may very well win - and win big, on a discrimination principle. Let's look at some considered facts first ..... 

- There will be medical 'exceptions' for certain individuals, regardless of colour, creed, age, country, region etc, based on a range of factors.

- The current Australian Prime Minister has publicly stated that a vaccination jab cannot be forced upon individuals and therefore will not become compulsory for any citizen. Ergo, there is recognition that some individuals will take a 'pass'.

- Federal laws govern national and international immigration entry laws in Australia, but apparently state laws can be seen to open and shut down states, domestically - as we have seen demonstrated over the past 8 months. Ergo, the Federal Government may mandate that arriving international passengers may have to present at Australian entry points with proof of COVID vaccination. That will exclude  large number of free-spending Americans, many of whom have publicly voiced their opposition to a 'rushed' and untrusted vaccine solution.

- Will there be a trade in fake vaccination certificates or dodgy online verification sites? What uniformity will there be between Government, airline and IT-industry based apps, if any? And who will oversee a 'global' policy? Will it be IATA, or the WHO (minus the USA membership) or will it be left up to individual country policies ie: unco-ordinated. 

- These are only the international problems. With no mandatory jab mandated and / or required for domestic travel by the Federal Government, QF could well be accused of discrimination when taken to court. That was exactly how it lost the discrimination-based case of single male adults being seated next to children a number of years ago. While QF may want to pursue a particular policy, it isn't always exactly right.

- There is also a valid argument that 'emergency' vaccine approvals and 'rush' testing may not reveal a subset of negative or unexpected results within the first few years. Think back to the thalidomide scandal of the 50's, 60's and 70's.

Qantas has widely indicated that the IATA policy statement on transmission risk in-cabin and the effectiveness of HEPA filters is sufficient reason NOT to honour social distancing inside an aircraft cabin. So if only a miniscule number of proven transmissions are detected in almost a billion trips, then Qantas can hardly claim that this is justified under 'safety' measures. That would be the height of hypocrisy. 

So ultimately, we have no Federal law mandating the requirement for an individual to submit to a vaccine in Australia, no way of legally enforcing such a law - and an airline trying to enforce a 'safety-based' policy that it has demonstrated it doesn't believe in. 

Some may say that it's QF's place to enforce whatever policy it wishes, irrespective. However, as a 'common' or public carrier - it has certain obligations to fulfill as a public transportation provider. This is exactly where the discrimination option becomes dangerous for Qantas. And, I believe - it will be challenged.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1219

Kimshep, carriage of service laws are quite liberal, so not sure which court where would knock back a public health reason. In Australia the high court has already backed public health reasons for discriminatory policies. Considering airlines can knock you back for being drunk, or pregnant, which is argued as a public health safety reason, being a carrier of a very infectious bug is a no-brainer. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 574

@patrickk - given Clive Palmer's loss in the Supreme Court over public health policy (State-based) vs. Constitutional values (impediment of Trade between States and WA closing borders), I would suggest that we - as a country - may be looking at some fascinating SC challenges over the next 6-12 months. As much as the Supreme Court ruling went, it seems distinctly odd to give 'preference' - and indeed 'precedence' to State powers in terms of a global / Federal pandemic in a Constitutional matter. Our forefathers would not  have been impressed, I suspect.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1219

Kim sorry to be pedantic but Clive Palmer lost in the high court which is superior to the Supreme Courts which are state based.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1004

The USA is currently still a member of the WHO. It takes a year for the withdrawal process to happen, by which point, it (among other things) will have been reversed by the incoming US administration.

The Qantas and IATA statements about distancing on aircraft and filters refer to viral transmission while on board an aircraft. The statements about requiring a vaccine for international travel have nothing to do with on board transmission risks, they relate to re importing the virus, in the same way that many airlines that are still flying internationally require confirmed negative test results before allowing someone to travel.

If proof of vaccination is required for international travel/border crossing it will likely be handled by the process that already exists for such things eg yellow fever.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 574

The USA may still technically be a member of the WHO until its termination takes place, but be aware that the Trump Administration has been denying funds contribution and ignoring participation since the initial WHO accusation. And while Biden has stated that he will rejoin once in power, he is not President until the end of January. Who knows how the WHO will address the 'rejoin' policy. It may choose the option of negating Trump's policy (after the 20th) or it may make the USA jump through all the (re) join hoops again. There is a certain level of animosity on both sides. Perhaps, Congress or the US Senate may choose to order a formal investigation into the actions of the WHO and it's alleged favoritism towards China.

Fully understand that the IATA / QF statements refer to in-cabin transmission .. in fact, my post specifically states "on transmission risk in-cabin and the effectiveness of HEPA filters". I also fully understand that we are discussing requiring a vaccine for international travel. 

However, what I think you are missing is the fact that there is neither a Federal Government policy, nor a WHO policy or an IATA policy yet defined. urther, there has been a total lack of defined responsibility between all of these parties. 

Qantas however makes a point of stating "we ask everyone who travels on Qantas and Jetstar to respect our safety protocols – which will include a COVID vaccine for international flights, at least until the pandemic is under control overseas.” So, if we are linking travel and safety protocols, I believe it is a fair criticism to point out where QF picks and chooses, where - clearly - most people would be far more comfortable - or 'safe' if you will - with some form of social distancing, a la Delta and Southwest in the USA. 

03 Feb 2018

Total posts 72

kimshep

"There is also a valid argument that 'emergency' vaccine approvals and 'rush' testing may not reveal a subset of negative or unexpected results within the first few years. Think back to the thalidomide scandal of the 50's, 60's and 70's."

I think this argument is not without validity owing to the example you cite. However, pharma and regulations have come a long way since then. The specific vaccine manufacturers, the scientific community, the medical community and the respective regulators risk an awful lot of credibility if they're pushing ahead without well-informed confidence that such adverse events (in the coming years, decades) are near-impossible. Everybody accepts that all the vaccines are being developed at record pace and that there has never before been an FDA-approved mRNA vaccine. But the scientific knowledge and technology, underpinning the vaccines, have not been developed overnight. Years, decades in the making. They can monitor and model in ways that weren't even conceivable decades ago.

So the question is - how much trust are we prepared to put in the vaccinologists and other experts? Personally, if they say it's safe and the regulators do, too, then I buy in.

07 May 2020

Total posts 90

kimshep....well argued. It's a very bold marketing position taken by Qantas and certainly doomed, either by being defeated in the courts when challenged, or a direct hit to the bottom line when seats are not filled because some people are rightfully cautious.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 345

I would seriously doubt there will be enough people vaccinated and wanting to travel overseas by mid 2021 for a meaningful number for many routes. What will happen is either the regular flights and frequency are half full, or they reduce the frequency so much so flying with QF may become inconvenient esp when you need to change itinerary. 

If I buy ticket to fly international I would choose the airline with enough flexibility in flight schedule rather than put up with one flight every couple of days

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 194

Which is no different from usual times anyway. Singapore with five flights a day to Singapore versus one on Qantas in usual times is just one example. 

30 Jul 2015

Total posts 3

No problem with this whatsoever. If you don't like it, fly with someone else.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 87

There are bound to be countless legal arguments over this. They can continue in the background. Just make it happen, let me have the vaccine and let me travel. Others will think differently, no problem.

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 285

No vaccines necessary for NZ travel.  Good, though interesting that there is an exemption depending on the country you are travelling to/from. Also, none for other countries with low case numbers, by that I assume Thailand, Fiji and New Caledonia will be included? Those are just about the only other Qantas destinations with low infection numbers left.

"The vaccine requirement may be lifted once the Covid-19 crisis is under control". Somehow I don't see that happening. I can see it being lifted if there are lawsuits filed or there are implementation issues or other problems leading to customer pushback, but if this trend of requiring vaccination to travel continues, then it's much more likely a Covid-19 vaccine certificate will be complemented, or at least replaced by an MMR vaccine, flu shot, Covid-21, Covid-30, swine flu 2025 or whatever existing or new vaccine(s) governments and airlines think is necessary.

Ultimately governments will determine the direction of future vaccine requirements rather than airlines. And other than Smallpox, I haven't seen any previously implemented vaccine requirement for entry into a country ever having been lifted. Yellow fever has been in place for decades.

04 Dec 2020

Total posts 1

I WAS ok with the vaccine. (based on the main stream media). But very uncertain now, after watching this: https://thehighwire.com/videos/the-vaccine-safety-project/

I'm now unsure, because based on the actual footage showing the CDC and how they vote for a vaccine to be approved, and the footage of the WHO advert for the public and their internal footage which contradicts this, it seems there is more to this . . . 

Of course, we all make our own mind up on this. Thing is, I did. But now I'm thinking of changing it. Still researching so if anybody can help me that would be much appreciated

Comments on this article are now closed