EU moves to place Covid booster jabs at heart of travel rules | European Union
People hoping to travel to the European Union next year will have to get a booster jab once their original Covid vaccines are more than nine months old, under new proposals from Brussels.
On Thursday, the European Commission proposed a nine-month limit for vaccine validity that would apply for travel within and to the EU.
If the plans are approved by EU ministers, from 10 January 2022 non-EU travellers will be required to show proof of an EU-approved booster jab once their original vaccine status is more than nine months old. Similarly, travellers between the member states would have to meet the same requirement to avoid Covid tests, quarantine and other restrictions.
The Commission hopes to avoid a confusing mixture of rules across the 27 member states, as governments scramble to tighten restrictions on everyday life following a surge in coronavirus infections.
The plans were unveiled on Thursday as the European Medicines Agency approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged five to 11, opening the way for governments to extend vaccination campaigns.
The EU regulator recommended two injections three weeks apart in the upper arm for primary-school children, at one-third of the adult dose.
The latest EU proposals prioritise vaccinated people, as Brussels moves to classify travellers according to individual health and vaccine status, rather than their country of departure.
From 1 March 2022, EU member states would only permit entry to vaccinated, recovered or essential travellers, such as lorry drivers. The current system, under which countries are added and removed from a safe list, will be dropped, a change officials think offers more certainty.
The recommendation to make booster jabs necessary after nine months for non-EU non-essential travellers is part scientific advice, part practical policy. Immunity wanes after six months, but EU officials added an extra three to allow governments to get booster-shot programmes up and running.
The EU executive also wants to allow entry for travellers with non-EU approved vaccines that are recognised by the World Health Organization, such as China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac and the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India. The EU has only approved four vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca (produced in Europe), Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) and Moderna.
Most EU member states only permit entry to people with EU-approved vaccines.
Under the new proposals, travellers to the EU with a WHO-approved vaccine that is not EU approved, could enter the EU, but would have to produce a negative Covid-test.
Tests and vaccination are not required for children under six, whereas those aged six to 17 are required to have a negative Covid test to enter the EU. Within the EU children under 12 are exempt from the travel rules.
Travel within the EU has been eased by the EU’s digital Covid certificate, which enables travellers to prove they have been fully vaccinated, recently tested negative or are fully recovered from the virus.
The EU “passport” is now linked to equivalent systems in 43 countries, including Switzerland, the UK, Turkey and New Zealand. This means those countries’ Covid certificates are accepted in the EU and vice versa. At least 20 EU member states use the digital certificate to control entry to bars, restaurants, cinemas and other venues.
EU officials fear that if member states opt for different rules on travel, people will lose confidence in the EU digital Covid pass. Didier Reynders, the EU commissioner for justice, said EU residents in possession of the EU Covid certificate should not face additional restrictions when travelling inside the union.
The EU has vaccinated nearly two-thirds of the population and around three-quarters of adults, not enough to avoid a surge in cases driven by the more contagious Delta variant and relaxation of restrictions.
On Thursday, the outgoing German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said “every day counts” in introducing social distancing measures, warning her country faced “exponential growth” in cases. A host of measures have been introduced by German regions to curb the spread of the virus, but Merkel is urging them to go further.
Earlier this week, the EU’s disease control agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, changed its guidance to recommend booster shots for all adults, with priority given to the over-40s.
The EU commissioner for health, Stella Kyriakides, said: “We have vaccinated over 65% of the total EU population, but this is not enough. There are still too many people who are not protected. For everyone to travel and live as safely as possible, we need to reach significantly higher vaccination rates, urgently.”