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March 22, 2021

If you're vaccinated, when can you safely travel? Here's what experts say.

Daily Briefing

    As more people in the United States receive Covid-19 vaccines, many are wondering whether it's safe to start traveling. Reporting for the Wall Street Journal, Barbara Peterson answers five questions about post-vaccination travel—and shares experts' opinions on when the vaccinated can expect to travel again.

    Good? Bad? Ugly? We've updated our take on what's next for the epidemic.

    5 questions about post-vaccination travel

    1. Where can I travel?

    As it stands, a number of countries, including the majority of Western Europe, are not open to tourists from the United States, and current CDC recommendations advise everyone to avoid travel if possible, even those who are vaccinated, Peterson writes.

    There are, however, a handful of countries that are allowing vaccinated tourists from the United States to bypass testing and quarantine rules, including Belize, Estonia, Iceland, Georgia, and the Seychelles, Peterson reports. Other countries are likely to join that list soon. For example, Thailand has said it will lift its quarantine restrictions for vaccinated travelers in the third quarter of 2021.

    A spokesperson for CDC also said the agency may be changing its travel recommendations "as more people are vaccinated and we learn more about how vaccines work in the real world."

    2. What's a vaccine passport?

    As more people get vaccinated, the tech industry has begun developing digital vaccine passports: apps that allow you to show proof of your vaccination on your mobile device rather than using a piece of paper, Peterson reports.

    Several vaccine passport options exist, according to Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research, but he says none of the available options "is better than the other." For now, Peterson recommends laminating any paper confirmation you receive for vaccination so you can use it repeatedly.

    3. Will flights be cheaper than usual?

    Because not everyone will be vaccinated at once, some may think that flights will be cheaper than usual as travel resumes, Peterson writes. But according to Joe Brancatelli, who runs the road warrior site joesentme.com, "Cheap coach airline tickets will be scarce," as it will take time for airlines to restore capacity on their routes

    Hopper, a fare prediction site, said it thinks the lowest domestic flight prices will occur between April 27 and May 7. Adit Damodaran, an economist for Hopper, said he'd expect international flights to be cheapest the last weeks of June and July.

    4. What do I do if I've gotten a vaccine but my kids haven't?

    As of now, there's no vaccine authorized for anyone under the age of 16, but some travel companies, including some cruise lines, are allowing minors to bypass vaccine requirements if they are traveling with a vaccinated parent or guardian and have received a negative Covid-19 test, Peterson reports.

    "The most likely scenario for some time will be vaccinated parents traveling with kids who aren't," Misty Belles, from the travel agency Virtuoso, said.

    5. Will there be cruises with only vaccinated people?

    Some cruise lines have said they will require all passengers and crewmembers to show proof of vaccination, Peterson reports. For example, Crystal Cruises in February announced it will require all guests to show they've been fully vaccinated 14 days before their cruise.

    However, much of the cruise industry has yet to fully resume cruising, with some companies waiting until the summer to start full operations, Peterson reports.

    What the experts say about the safety of traveling

    Peterson also interviewed three physicians specializing in epidemiology and infectious diseases on the potential risks of travel after being vaccinated—and to get a snapshot of their own travel plans.

    One expert—Davey Smith, the head of the division of infectious diseases and global public health at the University of California-San Diego—said he believes CDC's travel recommendations are "a bit conservative" for vaccinated people. He said he expects "travel restrictions for fully vaccinated people [to] be lifted soon," as more data comes in.

    That said, he cautioned that even with a vaccine, a person's risk of contracting the new coronavirus is never zero. "'Safe' is a relative word. Everyone has different risk assessments," he said.

    For his part, Smith said he intends on traveling to Tennessee to visit his family this year, as well as to the Galapagos Islands for his 50th birthday.

    Separately, Jessica Justman, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at Columbia University, said despite the encouraging "early results from the [vaccine] rollout," she still thinks people after being vaccinated need to take "all the same measures and protections we had to do before." For her part, she said she planned to travel to Montana this year to visit the national parks.

    Meanwhile, David Aronoff, director of the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said he believes Americans who have been vaccinated "pretty much can go wherever they want to domestically." He added that he'd avoid areas "where there are increasing rates of infection," but said CDC will likely loosen its travel restrictions as more people get vaccinated.

    "Given that the vaccines could be available to most or all American adults in a few months this will likely be sooner than later," he said. Aronoff said he plans to travel to Washington state, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin this year to visit family and tour colleges with his daughter (Peterson, Wall Street Journal, 3/17).

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