When Can I Travel Again After Being Fully Vaccinated?
- The CDC released guidelines saying fully vaccinated people can travel domestically without the need for COVID-19 tests or quarantining.
- All countries do not have equal access to vaccines, making international travel risky for those traveling and for unvaccinated communities.
- Domestic travel is likely safer than international travel at this point.
With vaccines being distributed across the country rapidly and summer around the corner, many are wondering when they can return to traveling. Just last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released travel guidelines stating that fully vaccinated people can now travel without getting tested or quarantining.
When Are You Fully Vaccinated?
It takes time after receiving your vaccine to be fully vaccinated. You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or two weeks after your single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.
While the vaccines offer a high level of immunity, there are still some caveats to traveling domestically and internationally. We asked infectious disease experts to unpack the risks of traveling after being fully vaccinated, and how you can stay safe while on vacation.
According to the CDC’s recent travel guidelines, fully vaccinated people are free to travel within the U.S. with no need for COVID-19 testing or post-travel quarantine as long as they take COVID-19 precautions while traveling. This includes wearing a mask, avoiding large crowds, social distancing, and washing hands frequently.
Because of differing vaccination rates around the world and the potential spread of new COVID-19 variants, the CDC provided the following guidance for those considering international travel:
- Fully vaccinated people can travel internationally without getting a COVID-19 test beforehand unless it is required by the international destination
- Fully vaccinated people do not need to self-quarantine after returning to the United States, unless required by a state or local jurisdiction
- Fully vaccinated people must still have a negative COVID-19 test result before they board a flight to the United States and get a COVID-19 test 3 to 5 days after returning from international travel
- Fully vaccinated people should continue to take COVID-19 precautions while traveling internationally
Before deciding to embark on your travels there a few considerations experts say you should take into account.
Possibility for Infection
Despite the high immunity levels offered by the vaccines, Kathleen Jordan, MD, internal medicine doctor, infectious disease specialist, and Senior VP of Medical Affairs at Tia, tells Verywell that fully vaccinated people can still infect others and also experience symptoms of COVID-19 if they become infected.
“Travellers run the risk of being a transmitter of the virus to others and also still run the risk of mild to moderate disease themselves,” Jordan explains. While the FDA-approved vaccines are effective in preventing death and severe illness from COVID-19, it is still possible to contract the virus and possibly infect others who have not been fully vaccinated. None of the vaccines offer 100% immunity from the virus.
“There is still a risk that you could transmit the virus to others, so you have to consider the vaccination status of your co-travelers and those you will be interacting with at your destination,” Jordan adds.
Because fully vaccinated people still run the risk of infecting others, Jordan stresses the importance of considering the vaccination status of others prior to travel, especially communities in other countries.
Although more than 678 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, vaccine rollout varies greatly by country, and countries such as Thailand, Guatemala, Mexico, and South Africa–all of which are popular tourist destinations–have had a slower vaccination rollout.
For example, in Thailand, only 0.4 shots have been administered per 100 people and in Mexico, only 0.9% of the total population has been fully vaccinated compared to the U.S, where 19% of the population have been fully vaccinated. The difference in access to vaccination across countries makes international travel risky not only for those traveling but for people in other countries who have not yet been vaccinated.
“The U.S. has made significant headway in vaccinating our most vulnerable, but many other countries lag behind so visiting a country where the most vulnerable are not yet immune may make travel there risky,” Jordan says. Considering these risks, Jordan says domestic travel as a whole will be much safer than international travel. “We need to consider the risk of those we are visiting in addition to our own personal health risks.”
Another factor that makes international travel trickier to navigate is the COVID-19 variants. “The variants are more transmissible and aggressive,” William Li, MD, physician and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation, tells Verywell. “So far, the vaccines approved in the U.S. seem to offer protection against the variants, but the risk of further mutations given more spread could mean new variants arise that could escape the vaccine protection.”
Li says that while countries like Israel have returned to normal, pre-pandemic life, the U.S. is still not there yet and that the public should wait patiently for the U.S. to reach herd immunity, a level of indirect protection that happens when a sufficient percentage of the population is vaccinated. Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, estimated that 75 to 85% of the population would need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to reach the herd immunity threshold.
“We all desire to regain our freedom to travel,” Li says. “We will be able to do this, once the majority of people are vaccinated and the virus is contained.”
What This Means For You
If you’ve been fully vaccinated, the CDC says you can travel domestically without a need for COVID-19 tests and quarantining. So if you’re looking to plan a summer vacation, consider a domestic location where mask-wearing and social distancing will be possible.
Safety by Mode of Travel
According to Matthew Weissenbach, DrPH, CPH, CIC, FAPIC, senior director of clinical affairs for clinical surveillance and compliance at Wolters Kluwer Health, the safety of your travel will depend on your mode of transportation and other factors including the proximity to others, duration of exposure, airflow, and the ability to wear a mask. “The safety of each should be evaluated by the ability to maintain social distancing and mask-wearing, down to proximity to other travelers who may or may not be vaccinated and airflow and purification,” Weissenbach tells Verywell.
For air travel, research has shown that the cabin of a typical aircraft has air filtration systems that replace the air of the cabin every two to three minutes. The recirculated air passes through filters called HEPA filters, which remove over 99.97% of particles that are 0.3 μm or larger and have been found to be efficient at removing particles at 0.01 μm. The size of the virus that causes COVID-19 is smaller than 0.125 μm. This filtration process has become critical in managing the spread of COVID-19.
But the safety of air travel also depends on:
- Other passengers and whether they are wearing masks and practicing social distancing
- Staff and whether they are masked and practicing social distancing
- COVID-19 test results for both passengers and aircraft crew
- Aircraft cleaning and disinfection
- Reduced cabin services such as food and drinks
Li says that less research has been conducted about the safety of travel on buses and trains. “But because their ventilation and airflow systems are not as robust as on a plane, the risk is likely to be higher,” Li explains. “If taking public transport, it’s best to keep the windows open, wear a double mask, and sit diagonally to the driver in the back seat.”
“If you do decide to travel, you should thoroughly research local COVID-19 guidance for the planned destination and understand all guidelines that will impact your journey,” Weissenbach says. “Anyone traveling, regardless of destination or mode of transit, should also continue to exercise all COVID-19 public health measures” such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
A Word From Our Chief Medical Officer
As the world takes on mass vaccination efforts, global travel will soon be seen in high numbers again. “Vaccine passports,” or formal certifications of vaccination, are being suggested as an accountability measure for safe travel. But they’ve sparked debate because they may also create a societal divide between those who are vaccinated and those who are not.
The distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is not equal. Global shortages can further widen the gap created by already-existing inequalities among countries and communities. Until there are no vaccine accessibility issues, vaccine passports will likely only deepen this divide. Instead, public health efforts should focus on community involvement and building trust in the efficacy of the vaccine.
Jessica Shepherd, MD
Women’s Health Expert
Jessica Shepherd, MD, is board-certified in obstetrics-gynecology. She practices at the University of Illinois at Chicago and appears regularly as an expert on Good Morning America, The Today Show, and more.
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.