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COVID-19 vaccine and the new year does not mean travel is advised, according to experts

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Published: Jan. 5, 2021 at 6:48 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s the time of year when people are making resolutions to better their lives. If it were a more normal year, many people might be saying they want to resolve to travel more, but experts say that’s a resolution travelers might have to hold off, at least for the first part of 2021.

2020 was a year of hunkering down, working from home, quarantining, and looking at pictures of destinations to escape to in the new year. So we made it through a hard year; why can’t people start buying tickets to island getaways? The answer is simple, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: “We’re not where we want to be. We’ve got to do much better.”

According to the Transportation Safety Administration, more than 300 million people traveled during 2020. And although TSA says about half of those travelers flew during the first three months before the coronavirus pandemic hit, it’s a 61% drop from travel in 2019. And for at least the first part of 2020, experts say just because we have a vaccine doesn’t mean it’s all of a sudden safe to travel.

In a recent appearance on Meet the Press, Fauci said the U.S. needs to double down on prevention efforts. “Rather than sit back and throw up our hands and say, “Oh my goodness, it’s getting worse,” we need to double down on some of the fundamental things that we talk about all the time, the uniform wearing of masks, the physical distancing, and the avoiding of congregate settings and crowds, particularly indoors. We’ve just got to keep doing that,” Fauci says.

The CDC says more than half of all COVID-19 infections are spread by asymptomatic people; 35% before the infected person feels any symptoms and 24% by people who never develop symptoms. However, it’s still not clear if vaccinated people can spread COVID-19.

Clinical trials show Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine, approved now in dozens of countries including the U.S. is 95% effective. It’s fully effective a month after the first dose and it starts to work 10 to 12 days after the first shot. The Moderna vaccine is similar. And in order for travel to get back underway safely, experts say herd immunity must be achieved.

In a recent interview with National Geographic, Dr. Tom Kenyon, the chief health officer of Project HOPE, a global health and humanitarian relief organization, says vaccine hesitancy is a critical obstacle to overcome in order to obtain herd immunity. “To get back to travel, the U.S. and the world need herd immunity, thought to be achieved when about 70% of the population has protective antibodies,” says Kenyon. And until vaccines are readily available, COVID-19 tests will remain a necessary part of travel.

If you must travel now, the CDC has all the travel guidelines and tips on their website. They also have an interactive map that shows COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination.

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