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. She’s spewing hot garbage. By her reasoning, ANY travel is “immoral” since travel itself is inherently inequitable: some people can’t afford to travel, pandemic or not.

  2. I think in the short term vaccinated people still need to take every reasonable precaution and be as safe as possible. Social distance, wear a mask, continue to wash your hands. Doing this until everyone can get a vaccine helps everyone stay safe and healthy.

    That said, once we get to a point where everyone can get a vaccine, I will have no sympathy for the people who choose NOT to get the vaccine. I’ve been on Team Mask 1000% during this pandemic, but I won’t be onboard continuing to wear masks to prevent non-vaccinated people from getting sick.

    We get our second shot tomorrow. Looking forward to actually taking trips versus cancelling them!

  3. Travel is okay with vaccination, but respect that not all are vaccinated and continue to wear masks as appropriate is the way to keep things normal these days.

  4. “Haves and have-nots” seems a silly way to look at this when most everybody who wants a vaccine will be able to get one within a matter of a few months. There have been real equity issues with the vaccine rollout, but the implications for travel (as opposed to, you know, life and death!) are surely way down the list in importance.

  5. This lady is just part of the “Woke” culture sweeping the U.S. She is just using this as a means to an end for equity.

  6. I think enforcement is the largest issue. A paper vaccination card is beyond easy to replication/forge. The lack of a push to a verifiable digital or analog proof of vaccination means until you reach wide scale immunity you risk exacerbating the issue with people trying to sidestep rules. In addition, say they pulled back the mask requirement. How is an FA suppose to enforce one seat mate to wear a mask but pass on another who is vaccinated? At this point it is easier to be all in, even if that means it is more restrictive. Mind you, while the CDC does have guidance out there, there remains few restrictions around actually limiting travel in the US (especially compared to other countries — in Paris currently you can barely leave your home bubble).

    Meanwhile I think we can look to places like Israel which are about 6-8 weeks ahead of us in terms of population vaccinated coverage. They are quickly returning to normal. But at the same time, they were in full lockdown mode early this year when they had similar vaccination coverage as the US does today. So it’s nice to be able to argue we should have less limitations on vaccinated individuals but realize we are the guinea pigs here. Places like TX and other states have decided to embrace this business as usual mantra. What that will hold for pushing the vaccine to younger populations, and continuing to stamp out the virus, remains to be known.

  7. Espousing opinions like this is why the world is in the shape that it is today. Sounds like an AOC plot to stop travel by the general public.

    Let’s not give them a platform to showcase their distain for the average person.

  8. Yep, completely immoral, totally unethical, no one should live their lives anymore for fear that someone else many not have the same opportunity. Go to jail and don’t pass go. I’ll enjoy my life in the mean time while the rest of you fearmongers hunker down over a virus that is no worse than the season flu, cold, and pneumonia.

    Anyone who gives this a second thought is depriving themselves of what this wonderful world has to offer.

    People have already given away too much in the same of supposed “safety”, but most new safety measures aren’t proven to increase anything. The person who gives up a little freedom for some safety deserves neither freedom nor safety. -BF

  9. I flew yesterday on a full southwest flight because the fed gov required me to do so to complete processing for a job. Although earlier parts of the process was done virtually they said this required being in person. Fortunately I have some protection having just got my second vaccine shot last monday.

    By far the biggest issues now are full flights and people refusing to follow rules. One guy on arrival was escorted off the plane by police.

  10. It’s stupid to say it’s immoral to travel after being vaccinated. Is it immoral TO TRAVEL because not everyone can afford to travel? So I have to limit myself until EVERYONE gets vaccinated? Sorry, but no, I’m vaccinated and I will travel. In life everything is rationed, either by price means, or political means,(Laws and police power), I would prefer price. Most thinking people would agree, I’m sure.

  11. I’m vaccinated fully and have no moral issues with travel. I traveled somewhat less ord-vacci action too, taking all precautions (masking, hand washing, and generally staying away from crowded areas). I’ll continue to mask and be respectful of others when I do things outside my house, but won’t stop living my life. I’m thrilled to have the vaccine, encourage everybody to get it, and have no issues continuing to wear a mask in public for the time being. It’s not over, but I’m happy to help it get there

  12. @Shaun – agree with you on the issue of not worrying about protecting people who choose not to be vaccinated. Once everyone has access I am done with all of this. If people choose to remain at risk, then that is their problem. I have stayed home, wore masks, and all of that. I don’t even feel the need to wait on others for me to travel and I didn’t feel the need for seniors to set home waiting on me to get vaccinated before they enjoyed their freedom. I do worry that those who choose to not be vaccinated will help this thing mutate to the point where our vaccination doesn’t protect us and one way to facilitate that would be for vaccinated people to have more access than unvaccinated – by that, I don’t mean kids or those who legitimately should not get a vaccination.

  13. There has been free K-12 education in the U.S. for well over 100 years, yet every year there are thousands of people who choose to drop out of high school. Should those that complete high school and command a higher wage in the workplace be labeled immoral? This woman’s argument is totally facile and not worthy of being considered PhD level rhetoric.

  14. I have a trip to Georgia booked at the end of May. It looks beautiful (of course booked with miles), and they are fully open with no test nor quarantine for vaccinated travelers. I’m living my life now vaccinated, with other vaccinated people. Sure, I’ll wear a mask and whatnot, but what is the point of the vaccine if I can’t change anything? I agree we discourage the vaccine by telling people it doesn’t get them any fewer restrictions.

  15. So what else is new? This liberal elite now wants us older people, who have been shut-Ins for over a year, not to travel because some people haven’t been vaccinated. Anyone in the US can be vaccinated, free of charge. Costs nothing. Nada. Stupid people can follow this idiotic logic. Not me!

  16. @Marlene – I get you want to be able to do the things you did pre-pandemic, so do I. But do you really not see the answer to “what is the point of the vaccine if I can’t change anything?” Umm, like, maybe to prevent you and others from getting sick and dying?!

  17. Stupid beyond words.

    The employees in the hospitality industry are often less economically advantaged.

    And so we should slow their economic recovery? Because of social equity??

  18. Everyone needs to understand what this injection is. By the FDA’s own definition of a “vaccine”, this is not one. A vaccine creates antibodies so that you can no longer actually be infected. The antibodies kill of any virus you might be exposed to thus preventing you from being infected, carrying it or being contagious. The Covid-19 shot does none of this. It does not prevent you from being infected. It modifies your cells to mute your body’s symptoms. You can still be infected and be contagious. It only affects your symptoms and not any infection or contagiousness. That’s why the CDC still recommends masks and distancing. It’s not a vaccine and in no way stops the spread!

  19. Agree with Tommyleo and Shaun. No one in gov’t questioned the morality of allowing older health care workers (of whom there is a surprising number) to be on the front lines of the pandemic. Now, as one of that number and fully vaccinated since Jan 6, I have and will continue to travel. I will also continue to mask, distance, and wash up. Flu is out there, but I personally, in a busy ED, have not seen a single case of influenza. I haven’t had my yearly URI, and there is less bronchiolitis in the young”uns.. Wonder why?

    It will soon be those who choose not to be vaccinated who won’t be vaccinated. Probably the same ones who refused to comply with masking and said, “If you’re scared of this “virus” stay home”. Maybe it’s time to return the admonition.

    Also, a perk or two might sway people to get vaccinated sooner rather than later.

  20. I totally agree with Gary’s cogent assessment. And, I decidedly disagree with the assistant professor who has possibly remained in the academic cocoon far too long! Being vaccinated protects the public and is an incentive to travel as well. For me, it’s a disservice to the public not being vaccinated and having a desire to travel. Not a moral issue! Very simply; no vaccination, no travel! Now is time to resume travel globally! Hopefully, all nations will open as soon as health concerns permit!

  21. What BS. I have traveled regularly since last May and have no moral concerns at all! I’ve now had the first shot almost 2 weeks ago (probably 80-90% protected now based on clinical studies) and flying to Las Vegas next week before my 2nd dose.

    Doesn’t bother me at all.

    Finally if there is some moral issue of “haves” and “have nots” that will be the case across practically ever area of life.

  22. If you get the vaccine and travel you are contributing to the recovery of everybody adversely effected by the 2020 economy. How is that immoral?
    Pretty much everyone who wants a vaccination will be able to get one very soon if not already and anyone who feels slighted because they had to wait an extra couple months before they had that protection is simply being petty and jealous…or dare I say immoral because they want to hinder the economic recovery.

  23. I don’t see a single comment here advocating for ‘equality’ and putting travel on hold. Good thing, too! Because it’s a dumb as shot idea to wait–possibly forever–until ‘everyone’ is vaccinated, so ‘everyone’ can travel.

    I’m not going to wait indefinitely for the antivaxxer crowd their shots; who knows when and if that might even happen? Likewise, just because another country doesn’t yet have the vaccine doesn’t mean they don’t want or need my money. As a matter of fact, I would be doing a poor country a greater service to travel and spread the wealth, wouldn’t I? Assuming, of course, I’m not spreading Covid.

    Let’s not forget, Covid or no Covid, if someone is poor, what are the odds they can afford to travel, regardless?


  24. Older people, more at risk of serious Covid complications were the first vaccinated. These are the same people who realize that time is finite and want to make the best use of that remaining.

    Travel on….

  25. Oh my, some real misinformation above. Dwight, clearly you don’t know how the COVID vaccines work or that they are different from one another.

    1. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA). COVID has a spike-like structure on their surface called an S protein. These two mRNA vaccines give cells instructions for how to make a harmless piece of an S protein. After vaccination, your body begins to make the protein pieces and displaying them on cell surfaces. Your immune system recognizes that the protein doesn’t belong there and your body begins building an immune response and MAKING ANTIBODIES.

    2. The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is a vector vaccine. In it, genetic material from the COVID-19 virus is inserted into a different kind of weakened live virus, such as an adenovirus. When the weakened virus (viral vector) gets into your cells, it delivers genetic material from the COVID-19 virus that gives your cells instructions to make copies of the S protein. Once your cells display the S proteins on their surfaces, your immune system responds by MAKING ANTIBODIES and defensive white blood cells. If you become infected with the COVID-19 virus, the antibodies will fight the virus. (Viral vector vaccines can’t cause you to become infected with the COVID-19 virus or the viral vector virus. Also, the genetic material that’s delivered doesn’t become part of your DNA.)

    Both these types of vaccines also create T-Cell responses and that significantly improves the durability of the immunity created in recipient’s bodies from the vaccines. In the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, their 2nd dose is essential for T-Cell response which gives them durability. Without the 2nd dose their ability to continue to protect at any level will quickly fade.

    We have to remember that While its true that these vaccines will lessen the effects of the virus if you get it, like other vaccines it creates significant immunity, though not 100% immunity. Of course, that’s not new in the word of vaccines. For example, Shingrix provides strong protection against shingles and PHN. Two doses of Shingrix is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and PHN. Protection stays above 85% for at least the first four years after you get vaccinated. So, like the COVID vaccines, the shingles vaccine isn’t 100% effective in preventing the virus ever and we know that over time its efficacy diminishes. Likely soon, the FDA will begin to recommend booster shots for shingles like they do for many other vaccines including, but not limited to Pertussis, Diphtheria, etc.

    Masks continue to be important, along with hand hygiene and social distancing because the vaccine isn’t 100% effective on the main version of the virus which hit the US and is generally less effective against some variants. In addition, these easy to use measures both help prevent vaccinated people who are around those who are unvaccinated from getting the disease, even though it will highly likely be asymptomatic or very mild, or spreading the disease to others, particularly the unvaccinated, if those who vaccinated get the virus.

  26. @Dwight. Please change your name to dim wit. You have zero understanding of how these vaccines work. And not all work in the same manner. Stop feeding this nonsense to people.

  27. I think Barry basically nailed it.

    I think once we’re vaccinated, if we have the opportunity and wherewithal to travel, the moral action to take isn’t to stay home, but to travel. In that way we help the travel and hospitality industries recover, help get people employed in those industries again as well as the industries and their employees that supply them with goods and services. With that employment we help those people put food on the table, keep their homes and pay their bills.

    To stay home and be part of denying employment to millions and millions across the globe might just about one of the most immoral things we could do, once we can travel safely after becoming fully vaccinated.

  28. “More importantly though the vaccines …are even being shown to prevent asymptomatic cases and thus transmission.”

    To be clear, studies have not proven that a vaccinated person is incapable of being infected with SARS-CoV-2. And studies have not proven that a vaccinated person is incapable of transmitting an infection to others. The risk of transmission is small.

  29. @Dwight, you have no idea what you are talking about. mRNA vaccines makes covid spike protein generating both an antibody and T cell response. J and J vaccine does the same in a different way.

    And to the person worried about variants, the mRNA vaccines are easy to update and we will get yearly boosters. The FDA has already made a flu vaccine like pathway for approval.

  30. The equity mongers won’t be happy until everyone is equally poor and miserable.

    Got my second Pfizer dose scheduled and I’m making plans, baby.

  31. It is an asinine point of view. First, who arbitrates what is “fair”? Our children used to come to my wife and me claiming that something or another wasn’t fair. The life lesson we tried to teach them (and I think we succeeded) is that life and the universe are not fair. “Suck it up, buttercup” and deal with it.

    Second, what about the thousands of service workers who have lost their livelihoods due to the closure from the pandemic? Is it “fairer” to keep them unemployed or underemployed rather in order to wait for some mythical “deserving person” to decide they can travel?

    Third, we all make choices and decisions in our lives. Some may be good. Some may turn out poorly. In a free society, we must take responsibility for those choices. Equality of result is never guaranteed. My wife and I travel because we choose to do so, having made choices in our Iives that allow us to do so.

    Fourth, we all have a finite yet indeterminate amount of time on this planet. Is it truly fair to ask my wife or me, both of whom are in our 70’s, (or anyone else) to give up a significant chunk of what may be left to us for some inchoate fairness argument?

    Truly preposterous.

    P.S. Nor do I want government deciding for me what is “fair” or “right”. Especially an agency (CDC) that tells me I must not eat my steak rare, my oysters raw, or my sushi in any form.

  32. Ms Baker has clearly spent too much time being coddled at her University.. This is one of the reasons people don’t trust Academics much any more because they have to insert (take your choice..) Their politics, their beliefs their own personal opinions and/or their liberal academic thinking into everything.

    We just want the facts; not a morality lecture

  33. I just find the argument very difficult to accept. As someone who traveled internationally and domestically during the pandemic both before I got my shots and now scheduled for a trip in 3 weeks since I got my second shot yesterday I don’t see why if you take adequate precautions like KN95, hand sanitizer, Covid test, keeping distances before, during and after that traveling is an issue. Frankly I’ve felt more reassured in Istanbul back in October than I do in the US simply because of the measures you had to do in order to do anything. The issue in my view is they see the scenes in Miami Beach which is appalling and say that’s what everyone will do if they travel and I don’t agree with that. I don’t see why the CDC can’t introduce measures for vaccinated travelers and accompany them with measures for unvaccinated people both for ramping up for more shots over time and since there will be folks who don’t want the shot but want to travel.

  34. The most equitable thing for the US to do would be to empty the warehouses holding the AstraZeneca vaccine and send as much as possible to Brazil which is suffering more than any place on earth right now due to covid.
    Europe has access to vaccines = they just have to figure out how to distribute vaccines produced between the EU and the UK. Brazil is just now developing its own vaccine even as it orders hundreds of millions of vaccine doses produced elsewhere.

    There is no reason for the US to hold onto any vaccine that is not approved for immediate use here.

  35. Not sure what planet the assistant professor at Virginia Tech is living on but there are inequities all over. One of the inequities is that I’m retired and the Covid pandemic had no negative financial implication for us. It actually increased our net worth since we didn’t travel for a year and didn’t start eating out until a couple of months ago.

    Our two-week post-vaccination date is this coming Wednesday and we are traveling south about an hour and spending two nights in a hotel and eating out all meals. And I will be very generous in my tips because another inequity was most of the people I will interact with are newly called back to their jobs after losing employment early in the pandemic.

    To not travel would only exacerbate the inequities caused by Covid.

  36. The issue of travel “haves and have nots” created by vaccines is not an issue of morality. It is a question of ethics. There is a big difference. Conflating the two is wrong. Morality is based on societal and cultural norms. Ethics deals with individual, legal and professional norms as applied in various circumstances.

    This post responds to an article that questions the ethics of vaccinations bestowing travel privileges that unvaccinated people don’t have. I disagree with the conclusion that the concept of travel passports is unethical but agree with the necessity of considering the ethics of such a program.

    It is important and perhaps a professional requirement (as it is with doctors and lawyers for example) for people like scientists and epidemiologists who make recommendations and decisions on behalf of others to consider the ethics of their actions.

    Considering the harm restricted travel inflicts on people who depend on tourism and travel in countries that are unable to launch massive spending programs to boost their economies and provide for people the pandemic has devastated economically, the positive effect of supporting those people by allowing vaccinated people to travel outweighs the inequalities that are created. Plus, such advantages for being vaccinated support the epidemiological goal of getting more people vaccinated and reaching herd immunity.

  37. It is not immoral but it is not wise. The vaccine is not 100%. You can still die or get permanent health problems. The chance is less, which is great!

    Traveling after vaccination should be only for very important purposes.

    Pre-pandemic type of travel should be ok after Covid rates are much lower. That should happen as more people are vaccinated. In the mean time, travel only if vaccinated and the travel is very important or travel if unvaccinated if truly urgent.

  38. On the “on boarding” issue, I believe the issue can be looked from two vantage points.
    One, have a Stew(or two) ride thethe head of the line directing/assisting passengers with seat location and inflight baggage.

    Two, STOP allowing people, particular women, to carry multiple bags, sacks, beach bags, giant purses, etc. as “carry- on” luggage.
    It is comical to see these people unstrapping themselves from 4, 5, 6 over the shoulder bags while everyone stands still waiting and watching.
    YOU seem to be allowing people to avoid common sense and are paying the price. You are exhausting common sense with your seat sizes

  39. I’m all for vaccine passports. That being said with the current rules people are really taking a massive risk when engaging in international travel. Vaccinated or not you still have to take a covid test before returning to the US and we all know some of those tests can come up with false positives, which leads to not being able to fly home and having the added benefit of being forced into a mandatory quarantine in some countries. God forbid someone get sick in some of these countries where their hospitals are already overwhelmed. Doesn’t seem worth the risk.

  40. Dwight, you’re absolutely correct, not that the uninformed masses who frequent this site will ever figure out. The injections are not vaccines as defined medically or legally and are actually experimental gene therapy. It’s not possible to know the long-term effects of these jabs and anyone getting them have agreed to be a guinea pig for big pharma.

  41. Dwight might be correct in some respects, but I’ve quit believing anyone, who doesn’t or can’t provide references.
    Having had two shots and being willing to wear a mask, the effectiveness of which I doubt, and to observe the recommended 2-meter distance, I have no qualms about traveling. My concern is to cause my fellow travelers no anxiety because of my behavior and not knowingly to conduct myself so as to spread the virus or another illness to anyone.
    Approaching 90 and not assured of living to 100, I intend to travel widely and wisely: if I begin to show signs of any illness or of being overtired, I’ll take steps to protect others and myself. Those measures are part of the social contract I unknowingly signed when I was born.
    John Dunne tells us that “no man [sic] is an island”; hence, I have a responsibility toward my fellows. As long as I conscientiously observe that responsibility, unless threatened by a fascist or socialist government, I refuse to be intimidated by pronouncements by the CDC and the pontificating Dr Fauci unless they provide sufficient references for their positions that a reasonably well-education can read, study, and understand.

  42. Is It Immoral To Travel Once You’re Vaccinated for influenza – Even If It’s Safe? Yes
    Is It Immoral To Travel Once You’re Vaccinated for Measles – Even If It’s Safe? Yes
    Is It Immoral To Travel Once You’re Vaccinated for chicken pox – Even If It’s Safe? Yes
    Is It Immoral To Travel Once You’re Vaccinated for mumps – Even If It’s Safe? Yes

  43. @derek – you need to clearly define what you mean when talking about vaccine effectiveness. reported percentage effectiveness data from clinical trials has generally been with respect to *symptoms* but in those trials each vaccine has been 100% or close to total protection against hospitalization and death. That doesn’t mean no one will ever die from Covid who has been vaccinated. But we should think of someone getting covid after full protection from Pfizer-BioNTech as most likely getting a cold.

    There are always risks to travel. If you drive in a car, the car might crash into another car. The question is how elevated are the risks, and once you’ve been vaccinated they’re really back into the range that most people tolerated pre-pandemic.

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