The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today announced the news many people have been waiting for: People fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely return to their vacations, family visits and business trips.
Up until today, the CDC took a more cautious stance on travel, recommending that even fully vaccinated people—those who received their last vaccine dose at least two weeks prior—avoid non-essential trips. The agency loosened that policy today, saying fully vaccinated people can travel domestically without tests or post-travel quarantine periods, as long as they continue taking precautions like wearing masks and avoiding crowds if possible.
Still, the CDC stopped short of recommending travel, saying only that travel presents few risks to fully vaccinated individuals. “While we believe fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves, CDC is not recommending travel at this time due to [the] rising number of cases,” Director Rochelle Walensky said during a press briefing today. Cases are up almost 10% over the last two weeks across the U.S., with hotspots in the Northeast and Midwest.
The agency also said travelers do not need a negative test result before an international trip (unless it’s required by the destination), but should get tested before they return to the U.S. and a few days after their arrival. Just like anyone, international travelers should continue wearing masks in public, given the number of people who are not yet protected against the virus and the emergence of new viral variants around the world.
Why the change? Recent studies have provided compelling real-world evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are not just effective at preventing disease, but also at stopping infections that could allow the virus to keep spreading. One study published this week found that two doses of either Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccines provided health care and other essential workers 90% protection against COVID-19 infections. Crucially, those results applied to both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, which suggests the vaccines help prevent viral spread as well as disease.
Research on post-vaccination transmission is ongoing, but recent studies have been promising enough for the CDC to relax its guidelines around socializing and, now, travel. It’s worth noting, however, that 90% protection against infection is still not a complete guarantee—hence why people should continue wearing masks even after vaccination. Furthermore, less than 20% of Americans are fully vaccinated. But the rate of inoculations is increasingly quickly, meaning summer travel should be relatively safe for millions of Americans this year.
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Contributor: Jamie Ducharme