Is It Immoral To Travel Once You’re Vaccinated – Even If It’s Safe?

Once you’re vaccinated you’re highly protected against the harms of Covid-19. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are incredibly effective against symptomatic Covid, though efficacy may be lower against some of the variants such as the South African and Brazilian mutations. More importantly though the vaccines are even more effective against severe Covid and hospitalization – even against the variants and are even being shown to prevent asymptomatic cases and thus transmission. For many of those that have been vaccinated it’s safe to travel.

But what if it’s immoral to travel even though it’s safe? An epidemiology professor argues one reason that the CDC hasn’t changed its guidance to allow vaccinated people to travel is it’s inequitable, it creates haves (vaccinated) and have nots (unvaccinated) and that’s morally wrong. In other words, you shouldn’t take advantage of being vaccinated because you’re privileging yourself over others,

With 26% of the population at least partially vaccinated, the temptation to return to pre-pandemic life is high. The problem is that — while laudable — that percentage is still not enough to safely reopen, says Charlotte Baker, assistant professor of epidemiology at Virginia Tech.

And putting the CDC in the position of giving some people the green light to travel when not everyone has had the opportunity to get vaccinated, she says, poses some thorny ethical issues. “Then you get into vaccine passports and the haves and have-nots of who can travel.”

I don’t find this persuasive as a reason why the CDC hasn’t revised its guidelines, because we know that the CDC tried to revise its travel guidelines and was prevented from doing so by the Biden administration.

I also don’t find it persuasive as a matter of ethics. Since in the United States every adult will be given access to a free vaccine, showing people taking advantage of a return to normal once they’ve been vaccinated serves as a demonstration incentive for vaccination. Sure, the unvaccinated may be jealous, but that’s also why they will get vaccinated.

Telling people that they cannot live more normal lives once they’ve been vaccinated, on the other hand, is the single worst sales pitch for vaccines. In the next couple of months there’s going to be more vaccine than people looking for a shot in the U.S. We’re going to need to go to lengths to find people to vaccinate, and encourage people to get vaccinated. A regime where those who have been vaccinated are able to do more than those who cannot is part of that encouragement.

There’s no question the Covid-19 pandemic itself has been inequitable. It hasn’t treated people equally. The most at-risk have been elderly, though of course there are gender and race differences as well. Vaccine availability has been targeted from the outset towards those at greatest risk, though admittedly in imperfect fashion. Should the elderly have to wait to travel until young people have a chance for a shot out of solidarity, when they have less time left to travel?

The greatest inequities are global. The U.S. will have enough vaccine for all adults in the coming months, while most of the world won’t have access to vaccine supply this year. Should U.S. air travel have to wait for world vaccination? If there’s a moral imperative it’s in helping the world scale up vaccine supply, not waiting to travel. It’s deplorable that the U.S. has been stockpiling doses of AstraZeneca in warehouses without approving the drug for use, though it will now release a small mount to Canada and Mexico.

By the way this focus on (a particular sort of) ethics rather than risk is one reason that the epidemiology profession has fallen so far in public esteem over the past year. This argument isn’t about science and public health, but morality. Remember sounding alarms over lockdown protests, that they were going to spread the virus, while saying that anti-police protests were justified? I happen to think those protests were important, but that’s a value judgment not a science judgment. And the CDC should be informing the public about science and risk.

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, 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. It’s immoral for a woman not to be a virgin for marriage. It’s immoral to commit adultery. It’s immoral for a man to go with a divorced woman. It’s immoral to take the lord’s name in vein. It’s immoral to steal (what the government does and what those who support the government do by proxy). It’s immoral to worship idols. It’s immoral for the government to use force against those who make decisions for their own bodies and lives (drugs/smoking/what they eat/seat belts/speech/tattoos/playing poker with friends for money) because people need to be free to make choices so god can judge them and condemn or reward them.

    Bringing up morality of traveling or calling any aspect of traveling immoral is completely out of left field. It’s hysterical. Focus on the above and ignore moral concerns about traveling.

  2. What a massive load of crap….not surprising knowing the source. You have to love it when our top scientists actually play politics with people’s lives….and they want to talk about the moral and ethical high ground? This coming from the people that tell us six feet of air (3 if you are a school child) will protect us from an airborne virus. And all dutifully parroted by hacks like Mr Leff to the ignorant masses who gobble it up. Yea…..COVID is what is really wrong with this country.

  3. The reason the US has vaccines is because we funded them, not because we stole from others.

  4. More whining from the self-centered egotists .

    13% fully vaccinated (2nd dose + 2 weeks) is a drop in the bucket that does nothing against the virus. Israel still bans international travel even if as March 15 50% of the population had been fully vaccinated. And Israeli has verifiable vaccine certificates, the US is a joke — anyone can print a fake one for him/herself from home.

  5. Look, I know you think you’re a scientist but the reality is we don’t know all we need to know about this virus. For example, can people who are vaccinated still pass it on to to people? I have no choice but to travel to Brazil next month (at least its mishandling of the pandemic is second to my country, the US). Everyone, mask up, socially distance, and wash hands.

  6. As I said…..ignorant masses who will believe anything they see on TV or read without ever bothering to think critically or apply common sense because they are too lazy to make the effort. What amazes me is they are too lazy to use their brains, but they will spend the effort attempting to spread their ignorance to others to feed their ego.

    Here is some food for thought, if social distancing and cheap crappy worthless masks that all your breath goes around unfiltered are sooooo effective at preventing an airborne virus, why have those things not been used in the past or are they used now by medical professionals to prevent the spread of airborne disease? Does COVID-19 have some protiene coat that makes it die when floating 6 feet (3 in a US school)? Is it somehow magically unable to hurt us after being in/exhaled around a filthy nasty mask that dumb ignorant people wear for days and days on end, despite the fact that a proper N rated mask not made by slave labor in China has to be changed every 30 minutes in a medical setting? Why do medical professionals wear positive ventilation full respirators when they are more than 6 feet from a patient even suspected of having COVID because the idiotic list of symptoms now probably includes having a pulse?

    Everyone thinks that testing is so important…..amazing that nobody wants to listen to the reports that the tests that are being administered are so wildly ineffective and inaccurate that no medical professional or scientist would trust them before they all gave up their ethics to suit politics for COVID? Why are scientists and medical professionals instead not calling for accurate testing?

    The truth is the only thing that would have stopped this was for people to have ALL stayed home in the beginning. The problem there is that 95% of people are so ignorant, lazy, and flat out worthless that they can’t be bothered to make the smallest of sacrafice to help themselves….no less for the greater good of society. They would rather believe nonsense and selfishly wade into potential death with their kids in tow than do what is right for everyone including themselves. So….in the end who cares if people travel vaccinated or not. If that is what they want to do, they are going to put 10 times as much effort into doing it anyways than it would have taken to stop this pandemic from happening for everyone. As I have said in a ton of posts, the virus is not the problem….people’s ignorance, selfishness, and just general worthlessness is. After COVID is gone, they will all find a new way to make those same problems all of ours. If you want to put some effort into something that will make a difference, start trying to find a way to fix those issues. Frankly COVID is probably doing far more good for our world taking some of those people out of the gene pool.

  7. Jackson Waterson: Please read the above about believing in nonsense. Just because people have been simple minded and ignorant enough to believe the same pack of lies for thousands of years does not make them true. The particular pack of lies that you so desperately cling to is true has killed more innocent people than all the plagues on earth put together. Luckily for us all as a species, more and more people are seeing religion for what it is….the greatest con in history to separate people from their money and control them. Chances are if the religious through out history had not persicuted those who strived to advance science, we quite possibly would already have the cure to disease. Ignorance and stupidity is far more dangerous than sickness.

  8. “CDC tried to revise its travel guidelines and was prevented from doing so by the Biden administration.” How dare you now defy the dogma of The New Messiah! All who voted for the Anti-Trump should not be travelling but groveling at his feet, kind of like all the illegal immigrants in overcrowded facilities The New Messiah created on the US border.

  9. Whenever you see the word “equity”, you can be sure that the intent has more to do with promoting Marxism than anything else. The only way to guarantee equivalent outcomes for all (equity) is really to reduce everyone’s standards to a lowest common denominator. Although, not really because those who preach “equity” ultimately end up being the ones who are the most privileged of all. If you don’t believe me, look at where “equity” has been tried: Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea – the former Soviet bloc was full of “equity” and if you didn’t like it you were shot. And there was never “equity” in any of those places, party leaders lived in relative luxury and the average citizen had the bare bones minimum without hope for better.

    Speaking of which, the USA drove development of the vaccines and thus is right to have priority for production and distribution. If you have received the vaccinations + had the 2 week waiting period, you should be able to wherever the hell you want.

  10. Gary, I know you’ve had fun playing scientist and doctor over the past year but there’s a reason both requires years of training, not casually skimming articles and googling things. The argument you’re reaching for comes from medical ethics, which is the principal of justice. Ethics and morals are NOT the same and to equate them is a very basic mistake and misunderstanding of the field. While they may appear to be coterminous in cases, the derivation of each decision and their bases are based on completely different approaches. Also, note the epidemiologist never said moral in your quote!

    In this particular scenario, the epidemiologist is also correct; they are citing that the medical establishment has the duty to fairly adjudicate use of scarce resources and to ensure that all people’s rights are respected in the process. By treating two populations (vaccinated and non-vaccinated) so radically differently, you are giving the incentive to a) have people cut in line and receive vaccines solely for travel (mostly a leisure and non-necessary activity) and not for a medical reason such as being high risk for COVID complications and death [see rich white suburbanites getting vaccines in clinics reserved for more severely affected minority populations] and b) arguably also affecting beneficence in the process since this vaccine diversion would arguably have a greater benefit to those same communities.

  11. Geologists: love rocks
    Generals & Majors: unhappy unless they are at war
    Epidemiologists: have little to no direct patient care/interaction rather they choose to deal with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health.

    The first 2 are quotes from 2 of my favourites.
    The 3rd is rings true across the board. Case in point is the aftermath of direct application of data & theory to the complex variables aka humans. How so? To slow the spread let’s apply the same course of treatment broad spectrum which was wrong. They should have made their recommendations, provided guidance, not have been allowed to direct application. This should be obvious just look around the world. Lockdowns only delayed what you see at present namely, the prisoners have been let loose and the guards are without their weapons. A fresh batch unexposed humans just ripe for the virus.

    How should this have been handled?
    If the scientific data indicated their was a group that was highly vulnerable which is unsurprisingly the elderly & infirm humans, immunocompromised humans, and humans with co-morbidities. This group should have been protected first and foremost and it would have been easier as groups 1 & 2 are likely already receiving some sort of government entitlement. It would have been far easier and cost effective to increase their benefits to help them through to full vaccination. The 3rd group, could have been placed under the same entitlements and cared for in the same way. It would have been difficult for these, however, the economy likely could have remained intact to a greater degree than has been experienced.

    The less vulnerable group of humans would then be utilised to maintain the economy through their usual work, eat, sleep, rinse & repeat through to vaccination. Expectation for mask wearing could have been the same as current to help slow the spread.

    Those humans currently on the public dole, welfare recipients, could have taken up meaningful work providing the essential services for human groups 1-3. Since they are already receiving benefits, they could have been incentivised with a temporary increase in benefits. This would last through vaccination.

    Imagine, the little non-vector humans able to remain in school with some safety restrictions in place. Daily human life being lived albeit with greater safety restrictions in place. The economy less impacted compared to the current economic, educational, and mental/physical health situation. What a concept!

    Lord Maximus Farquaad, I mean Dr. Fauci and all of these other epidemiologists that spend every waking moment trying to possibly control diseases (not human patient care) and other factors relating to health have done just humans!

    Stick that in your bagpipes and smoke it!

    Just my $0.02

  12. OMG THIS IS THE!!!!! worst post ever!
    you must be kidding?! is it an SNL skit? are you being PUNKED?!

  13. By NOW! everyone should have the vaccine in the USA
    sad that people are so lazy they can not move forward
    so easy at a grocery store, a pharmacy, a government agency, a clinic…. this is NOW stupid if you live in the USA and are too lazy to get a vax
    (now, I do understand pregnant women are nervous…..)
    but heck

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