A Vaccine Alone Won’t Be Enough To Make Travel Normal Again

Many readers have said consistently throughout the pandemic that they will not travel until there is a vaccine. CNN recently interviewed several people taking this position. I think it’s the wrong paradigm for thinking about future travel both because a vaccine won’t be the cure all many people expect and because travel itself seems pretty safe, the issue is what you find at your destination.

We know a lot more about Covid-19 than we did three and four months ago. Much of what we think we know is still speculative. There’s learning which suggests real optimism, even as the virus spreads rapidly through much of the country (especially the southern portion). But the idea that we’re just hanging in for a vaccine, and once we have one everything goes back to normal, no longer holds up as we learn more about what vaccines against the novel coronavirus can do. At the same time it’s one part of a tool kit that will bring life and travel back to what it once was – and taken together likely even get us most of the way there in the first half of 2021.

Travel Is Safe Now, But You Can’t Do As Much As Before

Business travel isn’t returning this year because it isn’t just flying that needs to be safe (and large companies tend to take a very cautious view putting travelers on the road) but the destination needs to be also, and business travel involves a whole lot of coordination around the idea that travel is safe.

Offices need to be open, or else remote workers won’t be traveling to headquarters, and you can’t go visit a client that isn’t at their office or where their office isn’t accepting visitors. That’s even aside from large gatherings being inadvisable, so conventions and meetings aren’t coming back for awhile. Those get planned pretty far in advance, too.

Planes with HEPA air filtration seem pretty safe, there really haven’t been demonstrated cases of virus spread inflight. If airlines were really a spread vector we’d see a lot of spread that we simply don’t find. IATA acknowledges that a Vietnam Airlines London Heathrow – Hanoi flight probably spread the virus on March 1, but even there it could have happened in the gate area or on the jetway. Millions of people have flown since the start of the pandemic and we just haven’t found evidence of significant spread on airlines.

That doesn’t mean travel makes sense. You may fly somewhere the virus is spreading at a high rate, exposing yourself at the destination. Flying does involve being around more people, in the airport and to and from. And once you get there… will you be let in? It’s not just foreign countries that are limiting entry, several U.S. states are imposing quarantines on arriving travelers from several other states.

If you’re allowed to travel freely to your destination you may find the bars closed (if that’s your thing), restaurant dining options limited, service at your hotel limited, and sporting events and other activities closed too.

And what if you’re exposed to someone who catches the virus while you’re traveling, and you have to quarantine while you’re gone? Then you’re facing additional time away from home, inconvenience (even if you don’t get sick) and additional travel expenses.

Some people are driving long distances to avoid flying, I think that’s a mistake – that air travel is probably safer than driving still. We shouldn’t focus only on one type of risk to the exclusion of others.

Vaccines Aren’t A Silver Bullet

There’s no question we’ll have vaccines, because we already have vaccines. The question is how effective they’ll be and how safe?

That is why clinical trials are proceeding in the U.S. The mRNA approach is new, seems to generate antibodies to the virus, and hasn’t been causing unacceptable levels of side effects, but what happens at scale when used across a huge variety of races, ages, and people with background conditions? We have to find out before making these vaccines widely available.

The Chinese have a vaccination they’re giving to their military and now some state-owned companies too, though it’s probably the least effective among current world candidates. It’s an attenuated virus, and it may help a little and probably won’t have major side effects.

There’s an idea of ‘a vaccine’ as though it’s a binary event, we either have one or we don’t, and that’s the wrong mental model. We’ll likely have several iterations of vaccines, a first generation and then subsequent generations that are more effective.

An initial vaccine might be, say, 40% effective which would mirror last year’s performance of the flu vaccine (the FDA has said their target is 50% effective for approval, though they would consider an emergency use authorization below this threshold). And not everyone will take the vaccine, let’s say we have 50% adoption, just look at the number of people who won’t wear masks and ‘anti-vaxxers’ have been on the rise in recent years.

Vaccines are one tool in a rapidly expanding toolbox that will help fight the virus and bring us back to normalcy, but the introduction of a vaccine – call it winter 2021 – won’t bring everyone back out of the shadows. (This is a prediction, feel free to disagree, though my predictions from early in the pandemic have a pretty good track record so far.)

Even if we have a vaccine candidate determined before end of year, and beginning to be distributed early in 2021, it will take time for production and distribution to fully scale up, even though that’s starting now to some extent. It’ll initially be available to health care workers and politicians and the wealthy and well-connected. It’ll take time for the rest of us to get it. And once it does it’ll reduce spread but not eliminate it. Some vaccinated people will likely still get the virus.

20% Protection From A Vaccine May Be Enough, As Part Of A Portfolio Approach

If 50% of people take a 40% effective vaccine, call it 20% protection. That layers onto the percentage of the population that’s gotten Covid-19 and retains immunity, and the percentage of the population with pre-existing immunity.

This should be enough to keep the virus under control, and though there’s been a lot of media coverage about antibodies wearing off quickly after someone recovers from Covid-19 that doesn’t mean they lose immunity quickly as new research on t-cell mediated immunity suggests: it appears that some number of people already have t-cell mediated cross-immunity from other common cold coronaviruses, and t-cell memory of this virus should reactivate an immune response even after antibodies wane.

How robust these effects are remains speculative, of course – and how immunity will be impacted by future mutations of the virus, though this one seems to be mutating less than many expected – but this research is the best news we’ve had in awhile. Still, as immunity does wane, more people may become vulnerable to infection again in a cycle of maintaining herd immunity.

Fortunately there’s a lot of thinking that herd immunity, which isn’t really just an either-or proposition but about a slowing down of spread as there are fewer people vulnerable to infection, may be achieved or approximated at lower levels of infection than some early estimates had claimed, “20% – 60%” is a wide range but helps explain low infection in New York City even as re-opening continues there. (See this too.)

We’re also seeing new therapeutics – not just the ones that have been broadly covered, but others where trials are underway – and even without those in use yet we’re seeing improved patient outcomes (for instance prognosis for someone on a ventilator is much better than in March). As infections have spread and especially in nursing homes (as we’ve seen this week in Texas) that will mean more absolute numbers of case fatalities, but I’m optimistic that improvements in how patients are treated will mean shorter hospital stays (helping to reduce the strain on health care systems) and that the virus won’t be as deadly when people get it. There’s some evidence suggesting this now, but we’ll have to see whether it continues to hold (and the point is, it should get better in any case better drugs).

The upside here to a gradual return to normalcy as we layer on protections and improvements that allow us to live with the virus effectively is that it means improvements like aircraft and hotel cleaning regimens – which would have been desirable even before the pandemic – probably stick around awhile.

Things Will Get Better Here, But That Doesn’t Mean They’ll Be Better Everywhere

As poor a response, and as widespread as the virus is here in the U.S., it’s hard to imagine that things could become better and safer for travel in the United States before doing so in (some) other countries. But the one area that the U.S. seems to be doing well, along with the U.K. and Germany, is in its biomedical response.

Some combination of pre-existing protection, recent infection, therapeutics and vaccine may suppress the virus to where it’s manageable here in the U.S. and life goes back to something like normal by spring 2021. That doesn’t mean everything is up and running – many events will require long lead times to switch back on, the most vulnerable may still rationally shelter, and habits take time to break too.

If the vaccine comes here and to Europe and North Asia first, what does that mean about travel to parts of South and Central Asia, Latin America and Africa? Availability of the vaccine seems likely to be an issue at least initially.

If you’re considering trips to South America and to Africa, they may not have access yet or for awhile. And that means some activities on the ground may not be fully open, and that since a vaccine won’t be 100% prophylactic you may still become infected during travel. The advisability of medical evacuation insurance coverage may be greater and certainly more top of mind though do due diligence on the terms.

If you disagree with any of this – and there’s plenty here that remains speculative, and as Yogi Berra is said to have said “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future” – please say what precisely you think is wrong and offer your reason why so we can have a constructive dialogue about what the markers of going back to normal travel will look like.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’d like to point out that “40% effectiveness” of a vaccine simply means that a person who gets vaccinated is 40% *less likely* to contract the virus than someone who doesn’t. Considering that your ability to contract the fly post-vaccination is non-zero, they aren’t as effective as one might think.

    Absolute reduction in risk for the flu shot is often just 4-6%.

  2. One of your best articles ever Gary – congrats. It all seems realistic – let’s hope it’s true

  3. If people look at Covid rationally, it’s existence needn’t affect travel for the great majority of the population.

    It should change travel for the elderly, who are at real risk, and who should protect themselves by staying home and near medical care they trust. The risk to non-elderly though is much less. In Sweden, a country of 10 million with no lockdown, 70 people under 50 have died from Covid. Outbreaks in the Southern and Western US have demonstrated that most people who are infected have few symptoms, or none at all, and only a small percentage of non-elderly people are hospitalized, and a small percentage of these people will die. Improved treatments have already greatly improved survival rates.

    Hard hit places like New York, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Sweden, UK, China, Belgium, etc., now have high antibody rates (68% in some parts of New York) so the risk of further pandemic spread is greatly decreased, and possibly eliminated. Only places like NZ and Australia which have completely avoided the disease due to geography, and have not developed any immunity, remain at great risk for pandemic spread.

    Travel is always a calculated risk but I’m ready to continue traveling as soon as I have a place I can go and a way to get there.

  4. It took decades for the first vaccine to be developed after the 1918 Pandemic. It didn’t stop people from traveling in the subsequent years.

  5. Gary – I commented on one of your posts the other day about assessing the actual risks to fliers. First, I think the only thing that should matter right now is what % of cases lead to hospitalization (because if someone gets sick and doesn’t need a hospital, this virus is no different than the regular flu as far as concern). I think we can all agree there are demographics in travel. In the extreme, if 100% of fliers were 20 years old, none of this would matter and they should should all be able to travel safely, even without masks. Why are we not putting these travel rules in place for the actual ‘at risk’ groups? Why do we still talk about the virus at all as if it equally effects everyone? For everyone who wants to argue ‘well it’s about spreading the virus’…how about this, if you’re in a high risk group, follow your group’s guidelines and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. For example, if you’re over 80 your guideline is not to travel, if you have any of the risk factors (respiratory illness, obesity, etc…) your guideline is not to travel. If you do, you’re knowingly taking a risk and that’s on you. To anyone who says, that’s not fair…how is it fair to just tell everyone they can’t travel or go out to eat or go to a beach? Here’s another extreme, if 99% of our population was healthy 20 year olds and 1% was 90 year olds with lung problems would we lock down the whole country to protect that 1% – no, we would put things in place to protect that 1%, but most of it would to guide them how to act. What if the split we’re 90/10 or 80/20…I believe the split between people who would be considered no risk (beyond what would happen if they got the flu) and people who risk hospitalization is around 65/35. Most countries operate on a principal of best for the majority or majority rules. Regardless of the exact number, the majority of US residents fall into a non-risk category. I just don’t understand why we treat everyone like they are. Almost 50,000 people a year die of opioid overdoses, we seem to be at a loss to handle that national problem; 10,000 people die in drunk driving accidents every year with no solution; pollution and other negative environmental issues cause hundreds of thousands of people to get sick and develop long term serious illness with no solutions, yet in a heartbeat we collapsed the entire economy and spent trillions of dollars so a group of people who were already fairly close to death (backed by the data of who is dying) can live an extra year or two, but without being able to see anyone. This makes no sense. We should have a federal mask mandate because that’s simple, and does help, but beyond that everyone should be able to live their lives and manage themselves based on their individual risk factors and all this drama would be better spent solving real problems that are killing people.

  6. @Mak – as Gary mentioned, it’s less the actual travel for me than it is…what do you do at your destination? We drove to some remote camp sites in Colorado and did some hiking, paddleboarding, etc. But why would I travel to somewhere like San Diego or Scottsdale right now? Everything is closed or limited in hours/availability. Unless you’re going to just shack up in an AirBnB and take in some scenery, most of the comfort and convenience of travel has been negated for the time being.

    We stayed in a Hilton brand hotel on the way back from camping, and other than the hot shower it was kind of dismal and uncomfortable. I don’t even interact with the staff or other people at all, even in normal times, but it’s just kind of a depressing vibe and absolutely no “above and beyond” service or amenities. They really should be cutting point redemption rates by 25-50% to get people to binge on their points and draw down their balances while hotels are empty and they don’t have to offer things like a real breakfast, evening receptions, etc.

  7. @FFFlier1976

    Gary – “if someone gets sick and doesn’t need a hospital, this virus is no different than the regular flu as far as concern” I don’t think that’s right, certainly not based on the experiences of family and friends that have had the virus, it’s nasty and can be long-lasting – the idea that if something isn’t life threatening we don’t worry about it doesn’t seem right to me, and we do not yet know the long-term effects yet, it’s too early to be so confident in that assertion.

    “if 100% of fliers were 20 years old, none of this would matter and they should should all be able to travel safely, even without masks.” I don’t think that’s right either, because 20 year old flyers could get the virus and spread it to others – the risk to them is pretty small, but the risk to the people they live, work, and interact with may not be.

    “if you’re in a high risk group, follow your group’s guidelines and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.”

    if you live in a nursing home you have people that work in the nursing home bringing in the virus, if you live at home you need to grocery shop or go to the pharmacy or go seek medical care. you can’t stay entirely isolated.

    “Most countries operate on a principal of best for the majority or majority rules. Regardless of the exact number, the majority of US residents fall into a non-risk category.”

    I don’t think ‘let’s kill the old people’ is a particularly stable equilibrium.

    I happen to agree that restrictions on business ought to have a lot of flexibility, it’s not drinking alcohol that’s a problem its lots of people spending lots of time indoors close together. People and businesses who actually followed their state’s re-opening guidelines for customer volume and distancing weren’t a problem, there was a lack of enforcement of rules for bars and that was more the problem than bars themselves. Meanwhile it’s generally the percentage of revenue from food versus beverages that allows restaurants to be open and requires bars to be closed, and there are businesses on the bubble to decide which one it is. Very odd.

    But to suggest that we just shouldn’t worry about spread, let everyone decide for themselves their level of risk, doesn’t make sense to me because the level of risk someone takes on also entails a follow-on risk they create for others.

  8. @Ed – the 1918 flu infected a third of the world’s population, killing tens of millions of people, there wasn’t nearly as much travel back then but it continued because of herd immunity more or less.

  9. Once a vaccine is readily available, there will need to be big incentives to get it, sticks and carrots both. I would be all for banning unvaccinated people from indoor venues, from flights, from schools and universities, etc. You can also practically guarantee that most countries will require it and will demand it of anyone who enters from outside.

    The government has devoted trillions to shoring up the economy. How about a $500 cash payment for getting the vaccine? That will go a lot further than stimulus payments in solving the problem.. It will get a lot of people off the fence or out of the loony conspiracy theory media.

    Change that 50% assumption for getting the vaccine to 97% and now we’re really getting somewhere. I’m happy to have registered for the Moderna Phase 3 trial and can’t wait to get started!

  10. It’s likely we’ll see a vaccination certificate as a requirement for international travel, much as yellow fever and other immunizations are required for certain countries. A few promising vaccines are already in mass production and I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two is formally approved in October.

  11. @JetAway – an emergency use authorization is certainly possible in Q4, that doesn’t mean it’ll be available to everyone or that it’ll be totally effective either.

  12. It depends on your idea of safe. Yes, the airplanes have the filters but the airports do not and many TSA agents have tested positive.

  13. The biggest obstacle to flying internationally is the absence of travel insurance coverage. Check out the fine print on your policy. Virtually no insurance company in the world, including the big ones like Allianz and Blue Cross, will pay claims associated with C19 treatment. You’re flying at at time when there is a known, declared pandemic. The policies are quite clear.

    If you contract C19 abroad and need to be hospitalized for a month and rack up, say, a $1 million bill (very possible for foreigners travelling to the USA), your insurance company will not reimburse you. Car accident injuries – yes. Routine medical events – sure. But C19? Nope.

    Most corporations continue to prohibit their employees from traveling overseas. Those embargoes will likely be lifted only when travel insurance policies include C19 coverage. And that’s only when a vaccine has inoculated most of the people in the world or the pandemic is officially declared over.

    Until then, I’m traveling domestically. Read your insurance policy before you buy that ticket to London.

  14. @Gary — great post.

    The big elephant in the room is the the lack of leadership and science-based decision-making in Washington for what is a national issue. Until there’s a change there we will continue to see individual States having to take things in their own hands and taking precautions from getting re-infected from people traveling from States who are clueless — just like we see with Hawaii, Alaska, New York (and Europe and most of the world banning or quarantining travelers who have been in the US).

    A vaccine alone isn’t enough indeed, there needs to be change in Washington as well!

  15. go watch youtube for some Chinese clips on daily travel, dining and shopping activities, they are aware of the thing and are taking precautions but that’s all. it’s not being played out by medi-a-politics-, you get a sense its getting back to normal. 2nd wave, 3rd wave… notice media says nothing about the fatality rate decreased by multiple factors rather than keeping pace with the increased case #s? this is a crisis media has to hold on to.

  16. @Steve I agree that this is a problem. There is no purpose to traveling if its not fun when you arrive. I have been thinking of going to Mexico City for several weeks, and nothing has been stopping me, except that I’ve been waiting for things to open . . . which they are now doing. You can see what places are like on Youtube and find places that look like they’ve returned to a semblance of normal enough to want to go (i.e., Bangkok, Vietnam, Shanghai) and others were they haven’t (i.e., Bali). No place is completely “normal” yet, but normal enough to be interesting and enjoyable, and much more fun than where I am.

  17. Some of the thinking needs to be expanded. Seems that your concern is about what’s safe for you, but we need also to think about what is safe for others. For example, right now if I live in a place like Texas, Florida, or Arizona I should definitely not travel and risk spreading covid to people in other places. This is also why we need masks–to protect others. This lack of collectivist thinking is one of the reasons why the US has done so much worse than Asian and European countries (the other big reason has to do with our federal and many state governments, which show a similar aversion to collective action and responsibility).

  18. @Gary Leff “But to suggest that we just shouldn’t worry about spread, let everyone decide for themselves their level of risk, doesn’t make sense to me because the level of risk someone takes on also entails a follow-on risk they create for others.”

    I think that this has become the common way to look at things, but in my opinion is difficult to defend on any moral basis. What we do everyday in the normal course of our lives inevitably impacts other people, provides benefits to some, detriments to others, etc., and those impacts occur as second, third, tenth, order effects which we can’t know or predict. We all have the right to live for ourselves and while we can’t trespass upon the bodies and property of other people, coerce them, hurt them, steal their stuff, etc., nobody has any rights to force anybody to give up their normal rights to work, travel, educate our children, eat in a restaurant, because of how it might impact remote third parties. That has never been the law or moral guiding principal of any free society, and we shouldn’t be quick to adopt a collectivist view in the face of Covid.

  19. Epidemiologist Gary is back, I see. Eyeroll.

    Don’t you have credit cards to sell? Or toilets to complain about?

  20. Its very possible that almost 50% of the U.S population will have/had the virus by the end of the year. So we need need what another 25% to achieve herd immunity?
    It’s not just about the vaccine. What about therapeutics? How does the antibody cocktail from Regeneron, effect this? Its possible it will be available in September.
    I hope to travel over the holidays internationally. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

  21. @bob
    Don’t you have another blog to read or a wife to bug? Or did she realize you are an idiot and left?

  22. Good article Gary. Great point about there being nothing to do when you get where you are going. Business travel is going to stay at near zero for a long time. The company would have to pay for the travel, have a customer or vendor willing to meet with the employee when they get there and then hope nobody gets sick after the trip. If someone sneezes 3 months after the trip, the trip will be blamed for spreading the infection, much less if someone gets Covid.

    We will be swimming in vaccines and earlier than you think, If they will work or be safe, we will find out eventually. You are right though, having a vaccine isn’t going to bring anything back to normal. Here in NJ we have had less than 500 cases a day for months now and most of those positives are from the Department of Health randomly testing restaurant workers and yet nothing is reopening for reasons that the Governor doesn’t even try to explain anymore. He cherry picks a couple of statistics that don’t mean anything and declares “flying is safer than driving”, sorry I mean ” we can’t reopen yet, because the rate of spread is above 1″. If you can’t reopen with 500 new daily cases in a population of 9 million, then NJ at least is never reopening.

    The other big hurdle on the horizon is the next big move down for the economy, I am guessing September, after the summer is over.

    I have been on 3 flights this month and have 2 more the next 2 days, but that is all I have planned. Something about wearing masks that I didn’t realize until I was on a daytime transcon is that when everyone wears a mask on the plane, there is almost no talking. The flights were all super quiet, like empty redeye quiet. If it turns out that the mask wearing helps, the reduction in talking is probably the biggest reason why.

    Keep up the good work Gary.

  23. @Mak – that’s the thing about a virus, what you choose to do with your body does impinge on the rights of others by infecting them.

    And while I don’t think lock downs were a wise policy in March or at this point, I don’t think telling the elderly to piss off is going to work because (1) you can’t really isolate them well, even knowing what we know now about nursing homes and the need to protect them we have a nursing home outbreak in Texas this week, and (2) people just won’t go for killing grandma.

  24. I appreciate your response Gary, but maybe we’re not seeing eye to eye on a few things. I didn’t say we should kill people, I’m saying we give people as much information as we can about their risk factors and give them guidelines just as you would to a diabetic. Then let them make their own decisions. If I were to travel to a country with a very high HIV infection rate and had unprotected sex with as many people as I could, would you feel bad for me if I contracted the virus or would you say ‘well gee, you knew the risk and knew the proper precautions you should take and you didn’t…’. Would say nobody should be allowed to travel to that country? to protect people from making their own mistakes.

    My point about a plane full of 20 year olds is that they would only be spreading it to other people who are not at risk of hospitalization. Just think, if in march we told everyone in the miniscule hospitalization risk group to go out and get the virus at once like a giant chicken pox party, we’d be much better off with the group most likely to spread the virus getting immune quickly while the high risk people were locked down.

    To your nursing home point…of course a nursing home should have guidelines for their employees if they are working with high risk groups. I’m not saying otherwise, didn’t think I needed to since it’s common sense. You think I would tell surgeons they shouldn’t sterilize their scalpels? My whole point is to tailor the guidelines instead of these ridiculous blanket restrictions on everyone like we’re all equal..

  25. “That has never been the law or moral guiding principal of any free society, and we shouldn’t be quick to adopt a collectivist view in the face of Covid.“

    Yep, our American individualism strategy sure is working like a charm. Sacrificing for a greater good is for stupider free countries like Canada and Australia, I guess.

  26. What is perplexing is that I know hundreds of people and no one I know has died and 4 people contracted Covid (one 73 years old) and did not suffer terribly. That said, I know this is not a hoax and is a serious problem yet I still want to travel. I am certainly not alone with this desire. Stay safe all.

  27. Here’s another example of stupidity in all this…New York just added Ohio to their quarantine list because of a ‘spike’ in cases, however if you look at the data, the % of positive tests has not changed at all, the number of people testing is going up. So in reality, there aren’t really any new cases at all, just more diagnosed cases because more people are being tested. On top of that, it seems well established that the number of infected people is 10X the actual diagnosed cases which makes the mortality 10X lower. So to say you are going to quarantine a state because the diagnosed cases spiked it complete political BS. It does mean the virus is spreading or infecting any differently than it did last week or the week before. So OH is on NY’s bad list because confirmed cases went from an a 21 day average of like 1000 to a few days of 1200 (with many more people being tested and the infection rate staying constant). I just looked at that one state, but I’m sure if you looked at the other 20 states on the list it would be the same. The virus is not a hoax, anyone who calls themselves a leader in this (both parties) is a hoax.

  28. @Gary Leff – that’s the thing about a virus, what you choose to do with your body does impinge on the rights of others by infecting them.

    That rationalization is inapposite though, as uninfected people are incapable of infecting anybody, and their actions don’t impinge on the rights of anybody. But Covid lockdowns, quarantines, and travel restrictions apply to the uninfected the same as the infected people who might actually infect others. These people aren’t being restricted for their infectiousness — they are not infectious at all.

  29. You made the assertion that Chinese vaccines is the least effective among current world candidates. is there any reason or just smear?

  30. Lockdowns weren’t a wise policy? What you’re seeing in your home state of Texas clearly contradicts that.

  31. 747Always – you’re missing the point. Yes, have lock downs and restrictions, but apply them strategically based on risk groups. It’s stupid to treat everyone equally in this because the virus has very clear demographic biases. If all of Texas was a population under 30 years old, they could have made it through this a number of deaths you could count on 2 hands without a single restriction.

  32. We may find out that you need the vaccine every year. We may also find out that even if you have had Covid-19, you can get it again with the average loss of immunity being a year. We may also find out that if you had a mild case in 2020, you could die when you get it in 2022.

    The situation is unknown at the moment.

  33. Actually the stay at home orders worked in NY, CT, NJ. The places that are suffering now are the very places that insisted on opening up prematurely. Its rather shocking that there are still people who do not understand this concept. Maybe when they see the trailers for the bodies it will start to make sense that they should have stayed home.

  34. @Bill the ‘opening prematurely’ narrative doesn’t make sense, it suggests that waiting to open would have led to a different outcome. it wouldn’t have.

    (1) the virus in most states wasn’t going away or even declining much, it was continuing to infect at a steady low level. waiting to re-open wouldn’t have crushed the virus, it just would have meant increased spread later.

    (2) states that re-opened ‘early’ didn’t on average have meaningfully shorter lockdowns. california was the first state-wide shutdown and they’re among the hard hit right now.

    (3) another plausible case for the ‘too early’ thesis is that more time would have meant states were better prepared to handle case growth, but that doesn’t seem to be true either, there weren’t ongoing concerted efforts to prepare for quarantining and tracing of cases in these states.

    Stay at home orders in New York didn’t prevent the state from having over 30,000 deaths, there have been 10x the deaths in New York as Texas, tell me why this is success?

  35. @747always – total lock downs include banning activities that don’t materially contribute to virus spread, for instance contactless retail wasn’t permitted. when i say lockdowns weren’t wise I mean that they contained unnecessary restrictions, admittedly because we didn’t know very much about the virus at the time. we can get most of the benefit without all of the restrictions that came with lockdown. unfortuantely we’re not quite doing that…

  36. @ALan – the Ad5 vaccine appears to be only moderately effective based on published data, about half of people already have antibodies to the cold virus it uses and in a trial it appears that half of participants’ own immune systems blunted the effectiveness of the vaccine. it also seems to produce a weaker immune response in those 45 and older. none of this is unexpected from an attenuated virus vaccine.

  37. @Gary “(1) the virus in most states wasn’t going away or even declining much, it was continuing to infect at a steady low level. waiting to re-open wouldn’t have crushed the virus, it just would have meant increased spread later.”

    Seems like every other developed country (save for Sweden) would agree to disagree here. Even if the assertion is right that lockdowns would be delaying spread, it would have(should have) bought time to prepare the pipelines for supplies and hospital capacity, contact tracing, testing, etc. Of course, we squandered all of that, and will probably squander it again if another lockdown were to occur. But lockdowns are still the BEST tool we had to deal with this. It is social distancing to the extreme.

  38. @JC – European countries has nothing to do with rates of infection across U.S. states at the time they lifted lock down, or in whether they had prepared for mass quarantines and contact tracing [in texas there does seem to be plenty of masks, though hospital gowns are in relatively short supply in some places]

  39. “It took decades for the first vaccine to be developed after the 1918 Pandemic. It didn’t stop people from traveling in the subsequent years.”

    Really? How many airlines were flying back then? And how many people had cars? You sure can travel long distances quickly on horse back and ships.

    God, people are stupid.

  40. @Bill If you consider NY/NJ/CT’s lockdowns a success, and Texas’s curtailed semi-lockdown a failure, you’ll have to explain why you think so.

    If you are an authoritarian grading on levels of draconian discipline, you would certainly be right. But grading on death rates, general health, public welfare generally, or any other objective measure, Texas clearly comes out far — cavernously far — ahead of NY/NJ/CT, and to suggest otherwise demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the data, or skewed perception of the world . . . or both.

  41. Gary, I continue to disagree with your assertion that airplanes are safe. I caught Covid-19 on an Alaska Airlines flight from IAD -> LAX, and I only know that because I recognized the cough of the passenger behind me (which I had for nearly a month afterwards.) Sitting in first, in case you’re curious.

    Health Authorities don’t always release infection data, and frankly most of them are overwhelmed in the US now (politics, misinformation, and otherwise), so can’t perform proper contact tracing. How would you expect to learn about a mass-infection from a flight given those circumstances?

  42. Definitely do your research before relying on your travel insurance to cover you for COVID related problems when traveling. Though a few Insurers don’t specifically exclude it they have clauses that could preclude coverage. AFAIK there is only one company specifically writing COVID insurance for international travel, though I expect more companies will offer it at a premium: Seven Corners’ new Liaison Travel Plus plan, however, is the only policy specifically designed to protect travelers from coronavirus-related issues

  43. Years ago on an international flight, someone was coughing several seats over. He hacked and hacked for about 9 hours. When I got back, sure enough, I got one of the worst cold/flu symptoms ever. Felt like I was going to die and not sure if I should go to the hospital or had the energy for it. Lasted for weeks. The point is that a virus can spread quickly even if people are wearing masks (most masks are not tight-fitting or N95). The filtration system does take it down somewhat but if you’ve seen some of the demonstrations of how droplets and vapor spread it is easy to see that in such a small space the filtration system can only do so much. BTW after that episode, I’ve always gotten the flu shot, and other than some lingering pain in my arm on one occasion I’ve been fine.

  44. @JC said:
    “But lockdowns are still the BEST tool we had to deal with this. It is social distancing to the extreme.”

    I would say the evidence does not support this broad of a binary assertion. It’s another example of the false dichotomy. Nobody forced us to choose between lockdown and certain death. This was a choice foisted upon us by relatively incompetent government, acting out of fear and ignorance. Lockdowns may be the closest thing to a binary device, but they are also among the most destructive tools economically [and also health-wise, considering their impact on delayed herd immunity, preventive care, depression, drug use, etc.]. That hardly makes them the best. Moreover, the data quite clearly show that what lockdowns seem to have done is in fact delay the spread, and even at that, only partially. Everyone will eventually encounter the virus; it’s that sort of thing. Some will die, and the vast majority will not. Maybe delayed spread is a worthwhile goal [especially if it achieves societal benefit while getting us to herd/vaccinated immunity], but the cost of achieving it has to be weighed against the cost [and benefit] of not doing it. In the arsenal of methods we could use, lockdown is merely the most drastic, not necessarily the best.

    Seems to me a little thinking along the lines of @FFFlier1976—tactical application of contagion control, e.g., targeted lockdowns, better elder protection, etc.—could go much farther, with less negative impact, toward achieving a rough Pareto efficiency.

  45. Even a less than 100% effective vaccine can be 100% effective in stopping an outbreak by decreasing the propagation rate. Unfortunately, the politicization of this virus and of vaccines overall in the US, makes a strong case for limits on the entry of US residents.

    At this point and, likely in the future too, Americans are just too dangerous and unpredictable to be allowed into developed nations. I foresee a documented vaccination requirement as inevitable for travel to places like the EU, Japan, etc.

  46. @Gary — Thanks for some thoughtful ideas. I’m curious if you have any guesses on when international travel will get back to normal for seniors and other vulnerable folks. For example, when will seniors be told we can toss out our masks and no longer worry about social distancing on a leisure vacation? Unfortunately as someone who loves to travel and has taken frequent international trips all my life I fear that day is a long way off. The answer to this question is also relevant to how soon general leisure travel gets back to normal (as in when will it match or exceed 2019 levels) with seniors being a large segment of the leisure travel market.

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