Being inoculated with the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine should not be a stumbling block for entering the United States, Dr Anthony Fauci has assured British and European citizens before President Joe Biden’s lifting of a travel ban.
America’s top infectious diseases expert said even though the US Food and Drug Administration did not approved the shot, passengers who have the Oxford-made doses listed on their vaccine passport should not encounter problems at the border.
Mr Biden will reopen the country to fully vaccinated travellers from the UK and the EU, bringing an end to the 18-month blanket ban imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump at the beginning of the pandemic.
During an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday, Dr Fauci was pressed on whether the US would recognise the AstraZeneca vaccine for travellers.
“I think that’s going to be something that needs to be worked out. I would imagine it would be, depending on the data that comes in," he said.
“But right now, depending on the way you presented it, I don’t believe there’s any a priori reason to believe that people who have received the AZ vaccine should feel that there’s going to be any problem with them.”
His assurances come after a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he felt “confident” the AstraZeneca drug would be accepted by US border officials.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman, asked by reporters in New York whether there had been reassurances from US officials that the vaccine would be recognised to allow British travellers to enter, said: “I have got no indications that it won’t be."
The spokesman said he was confident that any vaccine signed off by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency of the World Health Organisation would be applicable.
The FDA recognises people who have received the Pfizer, Moderna or Janssen from Johnson & Johnson shot as fully vaccinated.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is approved by the WHO.
White House Covid-19 co-ordinator Jeff Zients, who announced the end of the travel ban, said all foreign visitors would need to demonstrate proof of vaccination, as well as proof of a negative test taken with the previous three days.
Mr Johnson said he was “delighted” that President Biden was “reinstating transatlantic travel” but later faced questions about whether he had been kept in the cold over the decision.
Speaking on the plane from London to the US on Sunday, Mr Johnson told reporters: “I don’t think we’re necessarily going to crack it this week.”
At a press briefing on Monday in New York, the Conservative Party leader said it was “thanks to the hard work of our teams” that the announcement had come “faster than we expected”.
The US announcement is a major boost for airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, and Heathrow Airport in London.
They have repeatedly blamed the travel ban for limiting the recovery of passenger numbers during the virus crisis.
Heathrow has gone from being Europe’s busiest airport in 2019 to 10th, behind rivals in cities such as Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt.
No 10 Downing Street said Britain represented a “significant market” and that a US-UK task force, agreed on at the G7 leaders’ meeting in Cornwall in June with the aim of opening up travel, had “helped expedite” Washington’s decision to relax its border controls.
Around 3.8 million British citizens visited the US every year before the coronavirus pandemic, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said.
Airlines will be required to collect contact information from international travellers so that they can be traced if required.
Residents on both sides of the Atlantic have welcomed the decision.
Damien Moore-Evans, a French-British citizen who lives in Long Island, New York, told the PA news agency he was looking forward to his family meeting his daughter for the first time.
The baby was born in February 2020 but due to the travel ban his family members in the UK and France were unable to meet her.
“I was deeply upset that none of my family members could meet my first child and see her birth," he said. "It’s such a memorable moment in your life.”
Mr Moore-Evans, 35, said as soon as the news of the travel ban lifting was announced, he contacted his family to make plans.
“The first thing I did was text my family WhatsApp group and I said ‘finally we can start planning. Who’s available in November? What are we doing for Christmas?’
Helen Erskine, from Greater Manchester, has not seen her daughter Rachel, 29, since December 2019.
“It’s been a really, really difficult time for the family,” the 54 year old said.
“You go to sleep thinking about the ban and hoping it’s going to get lifted and then it’s the first thing that you think of when you wake up in the morning.
“You wake up in the night fearful, thinking about if you’re going to see her again and what happens if someone in the family falls ill. It’s a constant anxiety.”