Fact Check: U.S. Guidance That Americans Must Be Vaccinated to Enter Poland

Recently issued U.S. State Department guidance advising that U.S. citizens in Ukraine need to have received the COVID vaccine before entering Poland has become a subject of controversy.

The Claim

The White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked during a briefing on February 15 whether the guidance is accurate, but she could not immediately clarify the situation.

A reporter asked: "Why is the administration encouraging Americans who are fleeing through Poland to bring proof of COVID-19 vaccination? As I understand it, Poland does not require that, so is there going to be a shift in messaging...?"

Psaki responded: "I would check with the State Department on that, I am happy to follow up for you."

The exchange has fueled claims on social media that the State Department guidance is inaccurate or misleading, as well as of "embarrassment" or misinformation on behalf of the Biden administration officials.

The Facts

The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine on February 12 issued a statement calling on U.S. citizens to leave the country immediately as the "security situation [...] continues to be unpredictable due to increased threats of Russian military action."

"Poland has indicated to the U.S. government that U.S. citizens may now enter Poland through the land border with Ukraine," the statement said.

"No advanced approval is required. We encourage those traveling into Poland by land from Ukraine to cross at the Korczowa-Krakovets or Medyka-Shehyni border crossings.

"U.S. citizens must present a valid U.S. passport and proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Travelers are also encouraged to present a negative test result from a PCR or antigen COVID-19 test, which will facilitate entry into Poland."

But social media users soon began questioning the accuracy of the guidance with regards to vaccines, with many citing an article on The Blaze, a conservative outlet, which in turn quoted the official Polish government and border agency's guidance.

The article in question cited a passage on the U.S. Embassy in Poland website, which said:

"Starting December 15, every person arriving in Poland from outside the Schengen area has to present a negative test result from a PCR or antigen COVID-19 test to enter the country. Children who are under 5 years of age are exempt from the testing requirement. There must be no more than 24 hours between obtaining the test result and crossing the border into Poland. Vaccination does not exempt an individual from the obligation to test. These regulations will be in place until February 28, 2022."

Additionally, it cited the official government website for the Republic of Poland, which said:

"Until February 28, 2022, travelers crossing the Polish border as an external EU border are required to present to a Border Guard officer a negative diagnostic test result for SARS-CoV-2, in Polish or in English, performed within 24 hours before crossing the border and counting from the time the test result was generated (the test can be performed either in the country where the person begins his/her journey, at the airport in Poland before the border check or within 3 hours after crossing the border). Any person who fails to present a negative test result to a Border Guard officer will be required to undergo a compulsory quarantine. In the event that a test is performed after crossing the border, the procedure for releasing a traveler from quarantine rests solely with the health inspection authorities, and as such, the traveler does not have to return to the border control area."

It also quoted the Polish border guard guidance which said, in part, that "every person crossing the border of the Republic of Poland, constituting the external border (as a rule) is obliged to present a negative result of the diagnostic test for SARS-CoV-2."

The phrasing of these guidelines does appear to be rather confusing and, in places, self-contradictory, but the same pages also make it clear that a COVID vaccination is a key requirement to avoid the mandatory quarantine upon entering the country.

Specifically, as Poland is part of the Schengen area and Ukraine is outside of it, any arrivals from across the border need to consult the guidance for citizens outside the European Union and the Schengen area, which goes as follows:

"People traveling from outside the European Union, from outside the Schengen area, must present a negative COVID-19 test result. The test must be taken regardless of the means of traveling (public transport, individual transport or on foot). Failure to take the test will result in quarantine."

It adds that "The obligation to take the test also applies to vaccinated or recovered persons!"

However, in the section on quarantine the Polish authorities clarify:

"You are exempt from quarantine if you have a negative antigen or PCR test and meet one of the following conditions:

  1. You are vaccinated with the full course [...]
  2. You have recovered from SARS-CoV-2 (you are the so-called convalescent) [...]
  3. You are subject to other exemptions listed in § 3 of the Regulation of the Council of Ministers of 6 May 2021 on the establishment of certain restrictions, orders and prohibitions in connection with the occurrence of an epidemic."

Similar guidance has been issued by the UK and Irish governments, among others, to those traveling to Poland from the UK or non-Schengen countries.

"If you're fully vaccinated, you can enter Poland without needing to quarantine on arrival. At least 14 days must have passed since your second dose of a vaccination approved for use in the EU (or complete dose of a single-dose vaccine e.g. Janssen) [...]

"You must present proof that you have been fully vaccinated to avoid needing to quarantine on arrival."

And the Schengen Visa information center made clear in an update published on February 4 that vaccination was a key requirement for avoiding quarantine when traveling to Poland.

The update also clarified some of the wording, stating that while unvaccinated travelers from the EU/Schengen area and Turkey can avoid quarantine by presenting a fresh negative COVID test, that is not the case for others:

"In contrast to travelers from the EU/Schengen Area, those who reach Poland from third countries need to follow stricter entry rules. According to the Polish Government travelers from third countries are subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine requirement if they haven't been vaccinated or recovered from the virus."

The note adds that fully vaccinated and recovered non-EU nationals who are unable to present a negative test result not older than 24 hours are also subject to the quarantine requirement, because "Poland requires all third-country travelers to present a negative test result upon their entry regardless of their vaccination status."

The recommendations listed above suggest that claims that a negative PCR or rapid COVID test is sufficient to enter Poland are inaccurate. However, the phrasing used by the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine in its February 12 note is also misleading: While a positive vaccination status alongside a negative COVID test would allow travelers to avoid quarantining, it is not a prerequisite. Unvaccinated Americans can also enter the country, after self-isolating for seven days.

The U.S. Embassy in Poland issued an update on its Ukraine Information Page on February 17, stating: "In most cases, U.S. citizens departing Ukraine must present a valid U.S. passport."

It also noted that as of February 15, "Poland has updated vaccine and COVID-19 test requirements for entry."

"Travelers arriving from outside the Schengen Area by land must present a COVID-19 test result in Polish or English taken 24 hours prior to arrival," the Embassy guidance stated.

"Travelers are released from the 7-day quarantine obligation with a negative test and proof of full vaccination, or proof of recovery from illness.

"If you are unvaccinated and have not recently had COVID, you must test, but you will still be subject to quarantine. Quarantine obligations may be waived for those with proof of plans to transit Poland."

Newsweek contacted the U.S. State Department for comment on the story, but was referred to the Polish authorities for the latest information on entry requirements.

The Polish Embassy in the U.S. did not respond to a request for comment from Newsweek. The Polish Embassy in the UK did not clarify the entry requirements, but referred Newsweek to the Border Guard information page.

The Ruling

Fact Check - False

False.

While a combination of a negative PCR test and a vaccination certificate would indeed guarantee American citizens entry into Poland without the need to quarantine, the vaccine is not mandatory. Unvaccinated citizens can also enter the country after quarantining, which makes the official State Department guidance misleading.

FACT CHECK BY NEWSWEEK

Jen Psaki briefing on February 15
White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki speaks during the daily briefing in the James S. Brady press briefing room of the White House in Washington, DC, in Washington, DC on February 15, 2022. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images