The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made a huge announcement on Friday: It’s considered low risk for fully vaccinated people to travel.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a press briefing that the new guidance is based on data that shows “real world” effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines. “Vaccines can help us return to the things we love about life, so we encourage every American to get vaccinated as soon as they have the opportunity,” Walensky said in a statement.
The new guidance, which was also shared on the CDC’s website, says that fully vaccinated travelers do not need to follow the CDC’s recommendation to get tested for COVID-19 before and after travel. However, the guidance says, the fully vaccinated should still wear masks and take other common COVID-19 precautions, like social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene. (People are considered fully vaccinated when it has been at least two weeks since their last vaccination in a two-shot series or two weeks since receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.)
There is one thing the CDC didn’t change, though: People who are vaccinated still must have a negative COVID-19 test to get on international flights to the U.S. They should also get another test three to five days after their flight, per the guidelines.
This is a huge change for the CDC, which has until this point recommended that vaccinated people follow the same travel guidelines as those who are unvaccinated. The agency has slowly issued new guidelines for those who are vaccinated, including guidance that says it’s OK for fully vaccinated people to gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask. The fully vaccinated can also gather indoors with low-risk unvaccinated members of one other household without masks, per CDC guidelines.
Doctors applaud the move — and say it’s time. “This was anticipated and overdue,” infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. “It reflects the science behind the vaccines.”
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life that “this is a little bit of the CDC hurrying to get ahead of the parade, which has taken off.”
“All you have to do is look out there and read about how many people are traveling,” he says. “I’m glad they’ve done this. They’re giving people some reward for being vaccinated on a personal level — not just on a community level.”
Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease specialist and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life that the recommendation “seems reasonable, given that we know the risk of vaccinated people spreading COVID-19 is very low.” He says he’s glad, though, that the CDC still recommends precautions like wearing masks. “People still need to take all the precautions,” he says.
But while giving travel the green light is exciting for people who are fully vaccinated, it raises questions about kids. Fully vaccinated parents should still be aware that, while they may be protected against COVID-19, their unvaccinated kids aren’t, Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life.
“If parents are traveling alone, fine,” he says. “If you’re going with kids, then road trips are still the safest option.” Ganjian also stresses the importance of continuing to wear masks and making sure your children do the same. “Practical tip: Kids will refuse to wear masks if their parents take off their masks,” he says. “If you want your kids to wear masks, make sure you’re a good role model and keep them on yourself.”
Schaffner also urges people with unvaccinated children to take precautions when they arrive at their destination. “You have to continue to be careful on their behalf,” he says. “Keep them masked, social distanced, and the like,” he says. “Try to avoid crowded restaurants and use takeout.”
Adalja says he expects that more changes like the latest CDC guidance update will be coming for people who are fully vaccinated “as the CDC gets more comfortable with the real-world data on the efficacy of vaccines.”
As for summer travel? Schaffner expects it will be huge. “Every day, more people fall into the fully vaccinated group, and the CDC has given them the go-ahead to travel,” he says. “The entire tourism and travel industry will get a much-needed boost.” Adalja agrees. “Summer travel will increasingly look normal and more like 2019 than 2020,” he says.
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