GENEVA, 1 December 2021: The International Air Transport
Association (IATA) called for caution in response to a European Commission
Recommendation that the EU Digital Covid-19 Certificate (DCC) should only
remain valid for up to nine months after the second vaccination dose unless a booster
jab is administered.

Photo: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg.

“The EU DCC is a great success in driving a common
continent-wide approach to managing the Covid-19 health crisis and in
facilitating the freedom of people to travel again. It underpins a fragile
recovery in the travel and tourism sector. And it is critical that any changes
to it have a joined-up approach that recognizes the impact of divergent
policies by individual member states and promotes further harmonization across
Europe,” said IATA’s regional vice president for Europe, Rafael
Schvartzman.

Booster Shots

The critical issue is vaccine validity and the requirement
for booster shots. As the immunity afforded by vaccination wears off, booster
jabs are being increasingly offered to extend and strengthen people’s immune
response. However, if booster shots are mandated to maintain the validity of
the DCC, it is vital that states harmonize their approach to the length of time
allowed between the point of full vaccination and administering the additional
dose. The nine months proposed by the Commission could be insufficient. It
would be better to delay this requirement until all states are offering booster
jabs to all citizens and for a twelve-month validity to give more time for
people to access a booster dose, considering the differing national vaccination
approaches being taken.

“The proposal to manage limitations on the validity of
the DCC creates many potential problems. People who received the vaccine before
March, including many health workers, will need to have accessed a booster by
11 January or may be unable to travel. Will EU states agree on a standardized
time period? How will the requirement be harmonized with the many states that
have developed Covid passes that are reciprocally recognized by the EU?
Moreover, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said booster shots should be
prioritized for vulnerable groups that have not had a first dose, let alone a
booster. Worldwide, the vaccine program still has a long way to go in many
developing states, and the focus should be on ensuring vaccine equity. Given
that the majority of air travellers are not in the most vulnerable groups,
allowing a twelve-month time period before a booster is needed would be a more
practical approach for travellers and a fairer approach for vaccine
equity,” said Schvartzman. 

Vaccine Recognition

A further element of concern is the Commission’s
recommendation that travellers vaccinated with a non-EU approved vaccine should
present a negative pre-departure PCR test. This will discourage travel from
many parts of the world where infection rates are low, but the population have
been vaccinated by WHO-approved vaccines which have yet to gain regulatory
approval in the EU.

“Governments should prioritize policies that are simple,
predictable and practical in order to ensure passengers regain confidence to
travel and airlines confidence to reopen routes. The European Centre for
Disease Control is explicit in its latest risk report that travel restrictions
are unlikely to have any major impact on the timing or intensity of local
epidemics*. We appreciate that authorities must remain vigilant, but
discriminating among vaccines that have been approved by the WHO is a waste of
resources and an unnecessary barrier to people’s freedom to travel,” said
Schvartzman.