With the emergence of the omicron variant of COVID-19 top of mind for most people as we enter 2022, the question already on the lips of most cruisers is: "Will I need a COVID-19 booster shot in order to take a cruise?"
Though no cruise line has yet to mandate booster shots, the answer is: probably.
Since the omicron variant of COVID-19 first emerged in November of 2021, cruise lines have begun swiftly changing policies to keep pace with the virus. Mask usage onboard has been required by every major cruise line, and cruise lines such as Carnival, Holland America and Princess have temporarily banned smoking in onboard casinos in a bid to have passengers keep their masks on their faces as much as possible.
Cruise lines have also begun quietly updating their COVID-19 guidance to include mention of COVID-19 booster shots, recommending that passengers over the age of 16 obtain a booster shot, but stopping short of actually requiring them as a condition of setting sail.
On Royal Caribbean's COVID-19 vaccination requirements webpage, the line has inserted a new disclaimer regarding booster shots, stating, "We strongly recommend that fully vaccinated guests receive a booster dose when they become eligible to do so, though it is currently not required."
Other cruise lines have followed suit, introducing similar language into their COVID-19 guidance to include mention of booster shots.
The mere insertion of that language around boosters is enough to reasonably predict that, at some point, cruise lines will require boosters for COVID-19. When, and who that will apply to, is still unknown.
Already, COVID-19 booster shots are being required in some parts of the world.
On December 16, 2021, France began requiring cruise passengers wishing to go ashore to provide proof of having received a COVID-19 booster shot. Impact was minimal due to the reduced sailings currently in the region, but the move nonetheless signalled that booster shots would become a thing of the future.
The Washington Post reports Israel will require its citizens to be boostered in order to maintain their COVID-19 pass. The European Union, meanwhile, has already mulled the idea of requiring booster shots for anyone with a full dose of a COVID-19 vaccine taken nine months ago or more.
But as we saw with the emergence of the world's first vaccines against COVID-19, cruise lines were earlyadopters of vaccination requirements, as were individual countries and ports of call.
In November, Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Frank Del Rio -- himself a strong proponent of requiring mandatory proof of vaccination aboard the company's three cruise brands -- said vaccines would be required "indefinitely."
That same month, Disney Cruise Line became the first major line to require that children aged five and up be vaccinated against COVID-19.
And with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about to reassess its long-standing Conditional Sail Order on January 15, 2022, it's a fair bet that cruise lines will do everything in their power to go above and beyond any new requirements that may be added.
At this point, that's the big question -- and the answer is currently unknown. It is, however, a safe bet to assume that, at some point in the coming months, passengers (and travelers) will only be considered fully vaccinated if they have completed their standard vaccination regimen, along with an additional booster shot.
Although eligibility requirements for booster shots currently vary between jurisdictions, would-be cruisers should plan on getting their booster shot as early as possible to ensure they are ready to set sail.
If there's one thing this COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it is that new requirements often come in quickly, with little to no advance warning.