Not quite yet. There remain a number of reasons why companies should be retaining tighter controls on travellers and respecting COVID risks for a little longer.
With the UK's vaccination programme well underway, businesses will start to encounter staff who are fully vaccinated (i.e. 2 shots of a vaccine and a few more weeks for the antibodies to build up). Does this mean they should be treated differently from non-vaccinated staff when it comes to overseas travel?
Not yet. For a number of reasons.
Discrimination - medical background is confidential and the way the vaccination programme has been rolled out means that, for now, older people are more likely to have been vaccinated - and age is a protected characteristic. Giving people who are vaccinated opportunities that are not available to others (including those who are unable to accept the vaccine for medical reasons - disability being a protected characteristic) could be discriminatory. Take further advice from HR on this.
Spreading the Infection to Others - we do not yet have conclusive evidence that being vaccinated stops you from carrying the virus and infecting others. While most data in this field seems positive, scientists need more time and research before this is confirmed. UK Government guidance on vaccines remains, "we do not yet know whether vaccination will stop you from catching and passing on the virus, but we do expect it to reduce the risk". For now, there is a risk that vaccinated travellers could spread COVID-19 in just the same way as those who are unvaccinated.
Non-COVID Healthcare Capacity - travel to areas of high infection risk brings other risks. Chief among them is that general healthcare capacity might be significantly impacted, and a traveller taking ill or being in an accident might receive a poorer standard of care - research has shown that ICU facilities which are at 80% capacity or above have a significantly increased mortality rate for all patients (i.e. not just those with COVID-19).
Local Restrictions and Quarantines - finally, while some countries are beginning to relax restrictions for those who are vaccinated, these are still the exception for now. In most locations travellers will have to face the same restrictions and need to quaratine whether they are vaccinated or not.
So our advice is to continue to exercise existing risk management procedures for all staff, whether they are vaccinated or not - don't consider vaccinations as part of the risk management process at this time. Wait until Government guidelines change and the scientific evidence is there.
With more countries easing restrictions on entry for those who are vaccinated, and vaccine passports in some shape or form almost inevitable in the near future, these changes are only going to be a matter of months away.