Risking travelers’ safety by banning vaccine passports

Governors DeSantis and Abbott championed their states to pass laws banning vaccine passports. These cruise line efforts handcuff prevention of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Celebrity Summit docked at Juneau, Alaska - Copyright © 2019 NSL Photography. All Rights Reserved.Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott pushed their state legislators to pass laws banning vaccine passports as conditions of entry to business establishments or obtaining their services. The laws prevent businesses from requiring “vaccine passports.”

Vaccine passports are clearly in the best interests of cruise lines and their passengers to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks on their ships. Cruise lovers, who number in the millions, want to sail as they did before the pandemic. They want to travel face-mask-free and with little or no concern about contracting the coronavirus. Cruise lines want that too, so they can return to profitability.

Most cruise lines intended to require crew and passengers be fully vaccinated to prevent onboard COVID infections. Unfortunately, the Florida and Texas laws don’t permit the cruise lines to require that passengers prove they’re vaccinated, so ships using Florida and Texas ports can’t be sure their passengers are actually vaccinated.

Are Governors DeSantis and Abbott right that vaccine passports create huge privacy issues and restrict people’s freedom to travel?

Governor DeSantis contends that permitting COVID-19 vaccine passports demanded by corporations would create “huge” privacy issues because it would require people to turn over personal medical information to businesses. Governor Abbott said, “Texans should have the freedom to go where they want without any limits, restrictions, or requirements.”

The statements of both governors fly in the face of reality. Schools and businesses have long been permitted to require vaccination information from students and employees. Governments and businesses regularly employ significant safety and health restrictions 24/7 to prevent accidents and illness of employees and customers.

Governors DeSantis and Abbott flaunt reality when banning vaccine passports.

Let’s look at the major potential measures cruise lines could take to ensure cruises are as safe as possible from COVID-19 outbreaks and see whether or not Governors DeSantis and Abbott are actually risking cruise passengers’ lives by the new laws.

1. Cruise lines could require all passengers who are medically able to be vaccinated are vaccinated and show proof of the same. Passengers who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons could be limited to a small percentage of passengers on each ship. Their number would be small enough so they could benefit from onboard herd immunity and prevent required testing of them to be a significant issue.

While none of the COVID vaccines are 100 percent, studies show they are highly effective. A study of “breakthrough” cases of fully vaccinated people was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They estimated there were many more breakthroughs than was reported, But even if there were four times the number of reported cases, the infection rate would be astoundingly low, at 0.04 percent.

New data seems to show people who have recovered from COVID-19 have similar immunity to vaccinated people.

2. Cruise lines could permit passengers who were previously infected with COVID-19 but have recovered. Vaccinated passengers can also show proof of vaccination to travel.

The Cleveland Clinic did a study of their caregivers over a five-month period during their initial vaccination process. They found none of the previously infected employees who remain unvaccinated were reinfected during the study. It appears that the immunity people get from being infected may be as good as that from vaccination.

3. Cruise lines could require quarantine for all unvaccinated passengers at the port of embarkation for two weeks prior to boarding.

Quarantining unvaccinated passengers for two weeks prior to boarding can ensure no passengers infected with COVID embark. However, it can’t reduce their potential for becoming infected during the cruise. Regardless, would unvaccinated cruisers really be willing to spend two weeks of vacation in quarantine at their expense, especially for a ten-day or less cruise?

Testing isn’t a reliable method of preventing COVID-19 onboard cruise ships.

4. Cruise lines could require repeated passenger testing for COVID to prove they’re uninfected prior to and during their cruise and require them to provide their negative test results, throughout.

Unfortunately, COVID testing isn’t a reliable method of preventing infected passengers from boarding or becoming infected during cruises. A 2020 study of false-negative rates of PCR testing for COVID-19 showed false-negative rates got no lower than 67 percent during the four days of infection prior to symptoms, and only dropped to 38 percent on the fifth day when most people first have symptoms. We also know from research that COVID variants apparently compromise test effectiveness.

After reviewing the above COVID-19 prevention methods, clearly verified vaccination and perhaps verified infection immunity are the only ones that are actually workable.

Reviewing the above methods makes it clear that only vaccination and possibly prior infection immunity prevent COVID infection on cruises. (More study is needed concerning previously infected individuals.) Quarantine is unworkable. Testing is incapable of keeping infected passengers off cruise ships. Passengers can come in contact with other passengers and crew day after day, on some cruises for multiple weeks.

Vaccination and perhaps infection immunity can be counted upon only if cruise lines can verify them. Even with verification, some COVID-19 cases will still occur. The recent Celebrity Millennium sailing of verified vaccinated passengers proves that. Two passengers tested positive for COVID at the end of the cruise. Without verification it likely would have been worse.

It’s time for Governors DeSantis and Abbott to put people’s lives ahead of politics and rescind their laws preventing private businesses from requiring proof of COVID vaccination. It’s time for the governors to help, not hinder, cruise lines in keeping passengers safe.

(Image: Celebrity Summit docked at Juneau, Alaska – Copyright © 2019 NSL Photography. All Rights Reserved.)

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