Skift Take

The review process by world health officials of the Russian jabs was postponed by the war, so travelers are requesting to get vaccinated with approved brands. Other destinations with fewer stringent health requirements are managing to seize the moment.

Citizens in dozens of countries — including Argentina, Venezuela, and India — have received Russia’s Sputnik V Covid vaccine. But despite being approved by 71 countries, those who got the vaccine have found it difficult to travel elsewhere.

Now the war in Ukraine is further complicating efforts to get it approved for entry to more destinations.

The World Health Organization, which was planning to examine irregularities found in the Sputnik V plant on March 7, postponed its visit due to Russian invasion of Ukraine. Mariângela Simão, a WHO assistant director general, attributed the postponement to the difficulty of booking a flight to Russia.

Despite its widespread use, the WHO has not approved the Sputnik V, which has made travel to numerous European Union locations and United States challenging for those who have gotten the vaccine. The U.S. doesn’t grant entry to prospective visitors who received the Sputnik V.

What About the Industry?

The Sputnik V was the first vaccine administered to the people in Argentina and Venezuela, two countries where tourism officials see the impact of the WHO’s non-approval differently.

“By the time an a WHO-approved vaccine became a requirement, most of our travelers had received Sputnik V and could not travel out of Venezuela,” said Nicola Furnari, president of the Asociación Venezolana de Agencias de Viajes y Turismo. “So this certainly affected ticket sales in a big way.”

However, Julián Gurfinkiel, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Argentina-based travel search engine Turismocity, believes his company hasn’t been negatively affected.

“When the U.S. announced that people not vaccinated with (Food and Drug Administration) approved vaccines would not be able to enter, we worried that our sales in Mexico and Argentina would drop, because it is a popular destination,” said Gurfinkiel. “But luckily, we did not see a (big) impact.”

“Also, we know that lots of people who received Sputnik V are waiting for a third and fourth dose of another vaccine, so they can travel,” Gurkinkiel said, citing the case of Argentina. Roughly 11 million people in the country have received two doses of Sputnik V and boosters from AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna. The Health Ministry recently authorized a fourth dose for those who need to travel abroad.

Finally, Africa — where Sputnik was administered in some countries and banned in others like South Africa — is grappling with a different issue: a shortage of doses. The situation on the continent began to improve in February with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria significantly improving their vaccination rates.

But travel executives still have to grapple with customers’ vaccine-related concerns.

“We get lots of questions (such as) if a combination of different vaccines is allowed, like in popular destinations like Spain,” said Martín Levy, co-founder and chief commercial officer of Turismocity.

Levy noted that worries about vaccine requirements drove travelers to locations with less stringent requirements, like Mexico, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

“(On) our platform, they were the ones that recovered the most last year in relation to 2019,” Levy said.

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Tags: coronavirus recovery, politics, russia, Russia war, vaccines, world health organization

Photo credit: The Sputnik V vaccine still hasn't been approved by the World Health Organization Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación / Wikimedia Commons