Pauline Hanson has savaged Qantas’s plan to refuse passengers who don’t get a COVID vaccination, saying she had “no intention” of getting one and claiming without evidence that “I probably don’t need it anyway”.
But the Senator’s stance might see her stranded in Queensland for some time, with other major airlines signalling plans for similar vaccine rules, and a tourism expert saying most carriers worldwide would likely have similar restrictions before too long.
Senator Hanson, who has previously voiced her scepticism about vaccines, gave her strongest comments yet in opposition to the COVID jab.
“I have no intention of accepting an unproven vaccine into my body. Based on a COVID-19 survival rate higher than 98 per cent, I probably don’t need it anyway,” she told The New Daily.
Senator Hanson claimed Qantas’ expectation that passengers be vaccinated “is unacceptable”.
But it’s almost certain many other airlines will follow the flying kangaroo and institute vaccine rules of their own, according to tourism industry expert David Beirman.
Vaccines ‘key to opening borders’
“It’ll be a customer expectation, and a government expectation,” Dr Beirman, a senior lecturer in tourism at the University of Technology Sydney, told TND.
The International Air Transport Association, a global group with membership of nearly all of the world’s biggest airlines, also made the case for vaccines in tourism on Tuesday.
The association said it was close to finalising a ‘digital health pass’, which would carry vaccination proof for passengers, which it called the “key to reopening borders safely”.
Australian federal vaccine guidelines expressly set out that the government “may introduce border entry or re-entry requirements that are conditional on proof of vaccination”.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Tuesday that international visitors would need a COVID vaccine to enter Australia, or else to undertake a fortnight of quarantine.
Dr Beirman expects Qantas would be only the first airline to expressly commit to vaccine rules.
“If Qantas is doing it, every IATA airline will do the same … I think the majority of the airlines, all IATA and majority of non-IATA,” he said.
Dr Beirman said he also expected many travel insurance companies to refuse coverage to tourists who don’t get a COVID shot.
Airlines coy on vaccine plans
TND contacted major airlines operating services in and around Australia. Most stayed mum on any plans to follow Qantas’s lead in mandating COVID shots for passengers, but did not rule it out.
A Singapore Airlines spokesperson said that “a recovery in air travel may be assisted through the rollout of a global vaccine program”, and committed to “ensure all travel is undertaken in adherence to each jurisdiction’s health and safety regulations and immigration requirements”.
A Virgin Australia spokesperson said the company would “consider all relevant government and health advice… and make any decisions in line with crew and passenger health and safety”.
An Air New Zealand spokesperson said the airline was “really encouraged by the news around vaccines”, and taking its lead from IATA on travel guidelines”. The airline said it would “continue to work closely with authorities” on border reopenings.
Etihad, Qatar, Emirates and British Airways did not respond by publication time.
Why all of us need to get vaccinated
Believe it or not, the push for everyone to get a coronavirus vaccine is not part of a global conspiracy, as some anti-vaxxers claim.
Vaccines only work when the majority of people comply, said Associate Professor Paul Griffin, director of infectious diseases at the University of Queensland.
“If the vaccination rates are low, there will still be infected people who will be able to come into contact with people who are susceptible so therefore the virus will continue to circulate,” he told TND.
“Susceptible people” are those with weakened immune systems.
They could be a mum battling breast cancer, or a teacher with an autoimmune condition like multiple sclerosis.
If these people contract COVID from a fit person who declined the jab, they could die.
“It’s not just about yourself – it’s about all the people who you would infect,” Associate Professor Griffin said.
Refusing vaccination will also stop us from returning to normal after the pandemic.
“If people don’t take the vaccine, it’s not going to be the solution we need it to be to get back to normal,” he said.
“The vaccine is our avenue to get back to where we were before. Everybody needs to think about the bigger picture.”
Why anti-vaxxers should not be allowed to fly overseas
“A plane is the highest risk environment you can put people in – it’s prolonged close contact indoors,” Associate Professor Griffin said.
If an unvaccinated person is allowed to fly overseas, they risk spreading the virus at the airport and inside the aircraft, he said.
After they have arrived at their destination, they could either contract the virus and bring it home to Australia, or transmit the infection among locals who may not have access to our standard of health care.
A well-meaning trip to a village in India could end in disaster.
“If we have an effective vaccine, that’s just not acceptable,” Associate Professor Griffin said.
“The only acceptable alternative would be to not travel.”
Mandatory vaccines for the purpose of travelling is nothing new, he said.
“A lot of countries have required vaccines for diseases like yellow fever and that’s been very rigid in some of those countries,” he said.
“It’s not new, it’s not unreasonable and we obviously won’t approve a vaccine until we know it’s safe and effective.
“To refuse it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”