Een vliegtuig van Singapore AirLines (L) landt naast een Jetstar-vliegtuig dat op de internationale luchthaven van Sydney opstijgt. ( AFP / Saeed KHAN)

Airlines have not advised Covid-19 vaccinated travellers against flying

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A video shared on Facebook and Instagram shows Sky News host Cory Bernardi claiming airlines have warned people who have been vaccinated for Covid-19 not to travel due to an increased risk of blood clots. The claim is false: international airline associations said they had not issued the purported advice. Health experts say rare blood clots linked to Covid-19 vaccines are different to clots linked to air travel.

The video was uploaded to Facebook by an Australia-based user here.

A screenshot of the video, taken June 21, 2021.

“Airlines in Spain and Russia are warning people who've been vaccinated against coronavirus not to travel because of the risk of blood clots,” says Sky News Australia commentator and former Australian senator Cory Bernardi.

“This is a well-known risk of long haul flights, but apparently it’s exacerbated by the potential clotting side effects of the Covid-19 vaccines".

The TV segment was uploaded to Facebook on June 11 by Sky News Australia.

It shows a screenshot from this June 4 article published by UNCUT NEWS, a German-language website which touts itself as an “independent” news outlet.

“Airlines are addressing the problem of blood clots and recommending vaccinated people not to travel,” reads the text translated into English.

UNCUT NEWS’s article links to reports in Spanish and Russian that claim vaccinated people could be banned from flying. The reports do not provide sources for any such announcement.

The video was shared here on Instagram alongside a similar claim.

Australian senator Malcolm Roberts, who represents the far-right One Nation party, posted a screenshot of the Sky News segment alongside the caption: “Well, that’s another way of stopping ALL international travel”.

The claim, however, is false.

Vaccinated travellers

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) -- represents 290 airlines -- said it was not “aware of any meeting between airlines to discuss not carrying vaccinated passengers”.

“IATA’s position is that travelers who are vaccinated should be free to travel without restriction,” the IATA spokesperson told AFP in May.

A spokesperson from the International Airlines Group, which includes two of Spain’s largest airlines Iberia and Vueling, told AFP the claims in the video were false.

“We have not recommended our clients (who were vaccinated) not to fly," the spokesperson said on June 23.

Russia’s largest airline Aeroflot launched a programme in May to “support mass vaccination”, offering free Aeroflot loyalty scheme points to vaccinated travellers who fly with them before December 31, 2021.

“Promoting vaccination is our contribution to facilitate a full-fledged recovery of air transportation and provide convenience and comfort to our passengers,” Mikhail Poluboyarinov, CEO of Aeroflot said in this press release about the initiative.

Airlines for Europe, an association that represents about 70 percent of air traffic in Europe, told AFP on June 3: “No such discussions are taking place amongst airlines to ban or prevent vaccinated or even unvaccinated travellers from flying.

“Vaccination is a critical part of managing the pandemic, and increasing immunisation levels is allowing the gradual return to free movement, including for air travel".

Two major domestic carriers in Australia, Virgin Australia and QANTAS, also told AFP they are not restricting vaccinated travellers from flying due to possible Covid-19 vaccine-related blood clots.

Blood clots

Blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine are a very rare side effect occurring in “around 4-6 people in every million after being vaccinated”, according to the Australian Health Department.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says blood clots, known as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), can develop when someone is immobile for long periods of time during air travel.

“A serious health problem can occur when a part of the blood clot breaks off and travels to the lungs causing a blockage. This is called a pulmonary embolism, and it may be fatal,” the CDC says.

However, Dr. David Powell, medical advisor to IATA, said blood clots associated with Covid-19 vaccines (Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia VITT) are "different" to those that can form during a long flight.

"Cases [of DVT] linked to a long journey (by air, rail or road) usually have pre-existing risk factors ," he told AFP in May. “Apart from immobility, there are many factors including pregnancy, oral contraception, certain cancers, overweight, varicose veins, and disorders of the coagulation system.”

Marie-Antoinette Sevestre-Pietri, professor of vascular medicine at the University Hospital of Amiens, told AFP in May the blood clots caused by Covid-19 vaccines are “immunological”.

"There is absolutely no reason not to take a patient on a flight on the pretext that he is vaccinated,” she said.

The Australian Health Department told AFP the blood clots that occur during flight are different to those caused by vaccines.

“Among case reports, there are no known markers for increased risk for TTS [also known as VITT] including air travel, following vaccination with COVID-19 vaccines,” the Australian Health Department spokesperson said in a June 22 email.

This video was also debunked by AFP Fact Check in French here.