COVID-19 Vaccines: Why Travelers Will Still Need to Test

COVID-19 Vaccines: Why Travelers Will Still Need to Test

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Will COVID-19 Vaccines Bring Back International Travel Quickly? While many travelers are looking forward to getting vaccinated and being able to travel again, it's not quite that simple, at least initially. Here are a few reasons why many destinations are likely to still require testing of at least some travelers, particularly from the U.S., even if you've been vaccinated.

Vaccine Efficacy Does Not Equal Transmissibility

Optimists like to focus on the fact that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine efficacy is 95% and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine efficacy is 94%. But this is only in terms of preventing symptomatic coronavirus. That is, half the study participants received a placebo, half received the vaccine, and those who received the vaccine were 94-95% protected in terms of experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine trials assessed asymptomatic infection, so it's possible that there were many individuals who received the vaccine, were infected with COVID-19, and even passed it on to others, but were never ill enough to get tested.

In fact, one of the BioNTech cofounders estimated that getting the vaccine could reduce transmission by 50%, which while great compared to doing nothing, still means a good deal of COVID-19 transmission taking place. We'll need much better data on just how protective the new COVID-19 vaccines are, not just against developing COVID-19 symptoms, but against transmitting the virus to others, even if one remains asymptomatic.

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Vaccination Will Take Time

Healthcare workers and the most vulnerable populations are already being vaccinated in the UK, the U.S., and many other countries, but we'll be well into 2021 before most people who want to be vaccinated can be vaccinated, with young children and pregnant women likely to be among the last to receive the vaccine. Since it will take even longer than 2021 to vaccinate everyone in the world who wants a vaccine, poorer countries in particular, which may have significant unvaccinated populations into 2022, may need to require tests in addition to vaccines for visitors.

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For Those Vaccinated, How Long Will Immunity Last?

Another open question that we should have more data on later in 2021 is how long vaccine immunity lasts. There have been several documented cases of reinfection a matter of months after getting and testing negative for COVID-19. The immunity timeline and susceptibility of vaccinated individuals to new viral strains could also impact destinations' decisions on testing requirements.

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Certain Destinations Are Likely to Be Challenging for U.S. Travelers to Access Until Late 2021 or Later

Countries that have no or minimal community transmission of COVID-19 such as New Zealand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore, etc. are likely to reopen borders later to travelers from the U.S. and other countries that have had extensive community transmission, and/or have stricter requirements when they do reopen, such as a vaccine requirement in combination with testing. These countries are expected to be especially strict, particularly in light of more contagious COVID-19 strains, such as B.1.1.7 in the UK. The higher transmissibility of this strain has prompted countries to ban flights from the UK, or in the case of the U.S. require all passengers from the UK to test negative for COVID-19 pre-flight. Japan has even banned all foreign citizens from entry through the end of January 2021, ending its brief allowance of business travelers from certain low COVID-19 countries in Asia and Oceania. It wouldn't surprise us to see destinations have different testing requirements depending on where the traveler is originating, with more stringent vaccine + testing requirements in place for those traveling from the U.S., compared to those traveling from New Zealand.

When are you planning to travel internationally again?

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