What Fully Vaccinated Travelers Need to Know

New Guidance for Vaccinated Travelers.

New guidance for vaccinated people issued by the CDC states that fully vaccinated people two weeks past their final shot (or from the sole shot, in the case of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine) can reasonably gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people, unmasked and without distancing. But vaccinated individuals, including travelers, should continue to follow pre-existing advice including wearing masks in public and avoiding travel while COVID-19 cases are high. The agency’s federal requirement that all travelers to the U.S. show a negative coronavirus test result still applies for vaccinated people. Outside of legally required travel quarantines, the guidelines also state that vaccinated people do not need to self-quarantine after exposure to the coronavirus if they do not have symptoms.

Masking will still be required for some time

Because we do not yet know if vaccinated people could be asymptomatic carriers who could infect others with coronavirus, health experts stress that masking and distancing requirements are still necessary.

“The safest thing is to only travel with people that are vaccinated,” says David Freedman, a vaccinated infectious-disease specialist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who has studied in-flight transmission of the coronavirus.  Studies have pointed to vaccinated people carrying a lower viral load of coronavirus, and scientists could reach a definitive conclusion about vaccinated transmission within months. If the conclusion is that vaccinated people do spread the virus, then masking on planes is likely here to stay until global herd immunity is reached—which is unlikely to occur this year, according to the World Health Organization.

“If you are in public around other people who have not been vaccinated, you should still keep up precautions, because you don’t want to contract the virus and be the next super spreader, unknowingly,” says Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University. That thinking also applies to people you may be flying to visit who are not yet vaccinated, like children, as people under 16 are not yet eligible for the shots. Even though you are protected, it’s important to continue distancing, masking, and handwashing while traveling for the sake of others.

The type of trip you’re taking matters more than ever

Domestic U.S. and perhaps European travel will be faster to rebound, says Freedman; because of unfortunate COVID vaccine inequity, richer countries are likely to reach herd immunity first.

“With any luck Europe travel could come back by fall”, Freedman says. He also advises that, from a practical standpoint, visiting one country instead of planning a multi-country trip is wise because of complex international testing requirements.

Opting to visit destinations waiving travel restrictions for vaccinated travelers is one way to navigate your return to traveling, although Freedman points out that only a handful of countries have gone that route. Among them is the Seychelles, which is aiming for its population to be one of the first in the world to reach herd immunity. For domestic travel, Vermont recently moved to allow vaccinated travelers to visit without quarantining and the state of Hawaii is also weighing the approach.