Qantas is in discussion with the federal government after Australians abroad raised concerns they would be hampered from returning home due to differing vaccine requirements for children.
The Australian and UK governments currently have different requirements on the vaccination of children. While Australia requires two doses, the UK allows for only one in the vast majority of cases.
That has significant implications for the newly announced vaccine-contingent travel restrictions, which allow returning Australians, including children aged 12 and above, to skip hotel quarantine if they are fully vaccinated.
Qantas has also stated that passengers aged 12 or over “will be required to be fully vaccinated with a TGA-approved or recognised vaccine”. Only limited services are expected to be available for unvaccinated travellers.
Australia only considers those aged 12 to 18 to be fully vaccinated if they have had two doses, and airlines like Qantas have instituted no-fly policies on that basis.
But at least three other nations – the UK, Norway, and Hong Kong – are currently only allowing children aged 12 to 15 to receive a single dose.
The conflicting stances of both nations have effectively trapped some Australians attempting to return home, who are unable to get on a Qantas flight and only able to return via hotel quarantine.
The Guardian reported on the problem on Saturday after receiving complaints from families fearing they would be left stranded before Christmas.
Guardian Australia now understands that Qantas is in discussions with the federal government in an attempt to find a solution.
The airline has been telling Australians in the UK that it considers full vaccination for children to mean two doses.
“Since you are advising that this age group is not able to receive a second dose, you may wish to check on any government provided resources if this can be considered as an exception,” the airline told one parent on Facebook.
Angry Australians have inundated the Australian High Commission’s Facebook page with complaints.
“My husband and children are Australian and I am a permanent resident,” one user wrote. “We would love to go and [see] their grandparents in Melbourne this Christmas. However two of our (Australian citizen) children are aged 12-17 and are only eligible for a single jab in the UK.”
One Australian father in the UK, who asked not to be named, told the Guardian the requirement would probably prevent his family of five coming home before Christmas.
His children, aged 12, 15, and 17, had only received one dose, in line with the NHS policy. He has received no response from the Australian High Commission.
Now, his family face the prospect of having to tell their kids they couldn’t see their grandparents and the rest of the family, prolonging a separation that has already lasted two years.
“They might say ‘oh well, it’s just a holiday’. But that’s not the point,” he said. “For people who live overseas, there’s absolutely no way to get back into the country because of the requirements of the country they’re currently in.”
The health department said last week that its position on children was based on expert medical advice from the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
“Travellers aged 13-18 who have only received one dose of a TGA recognised or approved vaccine may still be able to travel, but only under the rules of unvaccinated travel,” a spokesperson said.
The health minister Greg Hunt was approached for comment.