Despite the rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations across the country, two of the nation’s top infectious disease experts say it’s too early for Americans to be making travel plans.
“I want to emphasize that now is not a good time to be traveling, period, internationally or domestically,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during a virtual CNN global town hall hosted by Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Dr. Walensky was there to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic along with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and chair of the Covid-19 health equity task force Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith.
Dr. Walensky said she favored more Covid-19 testing for travelers. “As part of the American Rescue Act, we have a budget for a lot more testing,” she said, noting that much of that budget is going to be earmarked for testing in schools. “But I would really like to see much of that budget, and I think the Biden administration as well, to use it for high-risk activities. And one of those high-risk activities would be for travel and domestic flights.”
A town hall audience member asked how soon after receiving her second Covid-19 shot could she safely travel.
“Getting vaccinated does not say you have a free pass to travel,” said Dr. Fauci. “Nor does it say you have a free pass to put aside all the public health measures that we talk about all the time.”
“You can get some degree of protection that isn’t durable 10 days to 14 days after the first dose, but you can’t rely on that,” said Dr. Fauci. “The maximum immunity begins about 10 days to two weeks and beyond following the second dose. That goes for anyone, regardless of whether you want to travel or not.”
But Dr. Fauci underscored that even a second dose of the vaccine wasn’t a permission slip to travel. “That would give you as a group about a 94 to 95% efficacy and a good safety profile. The situation, though, does not change what Dr. Walensky said. It is not a good idea to travel, period. We don’t want people to think that because they got vaccinated that other public health recommendations just don’t apply.”
Dr. Walensky reminded the town hall audience that the current CDC guidelines for international travel are very strict. The current recommendation calls for a viral test for Covid-19 several days before travel, as well as self quarantining and getting another test after you return home.
Dr. Fauci addressed why it was still important to wear a face mask after getting a second shot. “The reason is very clear that the primary endpoint of the vaccine trial was clinically apparent infections. So you could conceivably get infected, get no symptoms, and still have virus in your nasopharynx.”
It’s possible that people who have been vaccinated may still be able to get infected with a very low level of virus, said Dr. Fauci. “You would have to wear a mask to prevent you from infecting someone else, as well as the other side of the coin, where you may not be totally protected yourself.”
“We do not know as a fact” that getting vaccinated prevents someone from spreading a future infection, said Dr. Fauci, who noted that the government plans a quantitative study to compare the virus levels in vaccinated people with asymptomatic infections versus the levels in unvaccinated people with asymptomatic infections.
“It’s unlikely if you got such a low level of infection that you would pass it on but we don’t know that yet,” said Dr. Fauci. “This is an assumption that I think is reasonable, but we don’t know the facts yet. That’s the reason we have to do this study.”
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By Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, Forbes Staff
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