Why travel cannot return without vaccine equity

Vaccinations only for the privileged won’t cut it, writes Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton

Thursday 19 August 2021 14:42
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<p>Intrepid Travel has helped porters in Peru get access to Covid vaccines</p>

Intrepid Travel has helped porters in Peru get access to Covid vaccines

One of my favourite things about travel is that it reminds me how connected we all are. We’re part of a global community, not just a local one.

I’m lucky enough to be fully vaccinated and I can’t wait to get out there again, but I’m fully aware that not everyone is in the same position. As wealthier nations relax restrictions thanks to successful vaccine rollouts, people elsewhere in the world are desperately trying to get their hands on doses. The staggering fact is that less than 1 per cent of Covid-19 vaccines worldwide have been delivered to low-income countries.

This number must be addressed if travel is to restart in any meaningful way. If we don’t urgently address vaccine inequality around the world, the brutal reality is that our holiday poses a risk to unvaccinated communities.

Vaccinations only for the privileged won’t cut it. For travel to return, we need vaccine equity, and the travel industry must be part of the solution. As a global tour operator, I feel we have a responsibility to step up for tourism workers around the world and do whatever we can to promote fair and equal access to vaccination. It’s more important than ever to think beyond our own customers and consider the destination and the communities we’re visiting.

That’s why Intrepid has launched a global vaccine equity campaign, which focuses on three key actions: a commitment to raise AU$100,000 (£53,000) via the Intrepid Foundation to support Unicef’s global delivery of Covid-19 vaccines; improving vaccine access and education by using our on-the-ground networks; and the introduction of a mandatory vaccine policy on our trips.

Our vaccination policy will require all of our travellers and tour leaders to be fully vaccinated from 1 September. We’re taking this step because it’s important to us that we make sure the communities we visit, our leaders and our customers are safe and that we minimise, as much as possible, anyone’s chances of travelling with and passing on coronavirus.

Of course, it’s easy to say vaccinations are required, but it’s another thing to ensure people can actually access vaccines. Our fundraising and advocacy campaign aims to support just that – fair and equal access to vaccines.

Vaccinations only for the privileged won’t cut it

Where we can, we’re mobilising our teams and resources in the destinations we visit to remove barriers to vaccination. For example, in Peru, our team has been advocating for vaccine equality for remote communities, and offering free transport using our own vehicles to people living in the remote Sacred Valley, to help them access a major vaccination hub in Ollantaytambo.

Our team has also worked with local government to advocate for a vaccination hub in Calca, where most of our Inca Trail porters live. At the start of July 2021, none of the porters that Intrepid contracts on treks had been vaccinated. By the end of July, 80 per cent had received at least one dose. And with the memories of our Machu Picchu trip still fresh in my mind, I’m grateful that we’ve been able to assist our people in Peru in some small way in their battle against the virus.

Access to a vaccine is not the only issue – negative beliefs and attitudes towards vaccination can also be a barrier. In our Colombo office in Sri Lanka, Intrepid hosted a Q&A session with Professor Neelika Malavige, a member of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) technical advisory committee. Neelika educated staff on vaccines and the critical role they play in ending the Covid pandemic, and spent time answering questions.

As difficult as the last year and a half has been, I believe the global community has demonstrated kindness on a massive scale. We stayed (and, in some cases, are still staying) indoors for weeks or months at a time to protect the vulnerable. We have been wearing masks, checking on our neighbours, supporting local businesses and creating new ways of working and living.

Now, as the global vaccine rollout picks up pace, we have an opportunity to do it again. We’re all eager to explore and forge these much-missed human connections with people around the world. But as travellers, we must do our part to protect the communities we visit.

You can donate to the ‘Give the World a Shot’ campaign via the Intrepid Foundation.

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