Will I need to get a COVID-19 booster shot before my next trip? By: Sasha Brady

The US government has drawn up plans that will make COVID-19 booster shots available to Americans from September. The move comes as more countries, including Croatia and Austria, tighten entry rules by setting expiry dates on travelers’ vaccine certificates based on when they received their last jab. If this trend continues, is it likely that people will need to review their vaccines before planning any overseas trips?

From September 20, Americans who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines at the start of the year will be eligible to receive a third shot amid fears of waning immunity and the Delta-driven surge. The booster shot program will eventually give all Americans the opportunity to receive a third mRNA vaccine eight months after their second dose. “It’s the best way to protect ourselves from any new variants that could arise,” US president Joe Biden said on Wednesday when announcing the news.

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Croatia has set an expiry date on vaccine passports/certificates for travelers © Roman Babakin / Shutterstock

Vaccine deadlines for travelers

A similar roll-out is being implemented in Europe, and it particularly affects travelers. Last month, Croatia became the first country in the EU to add an expiry date to vaccine passports in line with when the holder was inoculated. According to the government, travelers will need to present a negative COVID-19 test result to enter Croatia if more than 270 days (nine months) have passed since their last dose of an approved vaccine. Austria also placed a 270 day maximum validity period on their vaccination certificates for travelers.

If this trend continues, it’s possible that travelers will need to stay up-to-date with their vaccines before planning any international trips. “There are currently recommendations for regular boosters for many vaccines, particularly for international travelers, including influenza, hepatitis A, yellow fever, typhoid, etc.,” Dr. Bob Bollinger, a professor of infectious diseases at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, tells Lonely Planet. “Since travelers already should review their vaccinations prior to their overseas trips and get boosters as needed, it would not be a major issue to add COVID-19 vaccines to the list.”

Austria has set out a 270 day limit on vaccine validity © Rastislav Sedlak SK / Shutterstock

Seasonal shots

In the UK, the government is expected to make a decision soon on implementing a booster campaign next month. According to The Times, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is conducting trails to determine if immunity against COVID-19 wanes after nine months. If that is proven and the campaign gets the go-ahead, the newspaper reports that booster shots will be “administered next month alongside seasonal flu vaccines”.

With that in mind, is it possible that we could see booster shots continually administered on a seasonal basis, particularly as more COVID-19 strains emerge? According to Dr. Bollinger, we’ll have to wait and see. That’s because there’s still much uncertainty about the need for boosters, and how often they might be required. “It is certainly possible that boosters will be needed periodically for COVID-19. But we don’t yet know how frequently boosters might be needed. We also don’t yet know if, like flu vaccinations, we might need booster vaccinations that are periodically modified to protect against new SARS-CoV-2 strains,” he explains.

While wealthy nations are planning to administer third shots to their populations, the World Health Organization (WHO) fears that it comes at the expense of millions of people around the world who have yet to receive a single dose of a vaccine for protection.

“We’re planning to hand out extra life jackets to people who already have life jackets, while we’re leaving other people to drown without a single life jacket,” Dr. Mike Ryan, director of the WHO’s emergency programme, told reporters on Wednesday.

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