The U.S. move to welcome vaccinated visitors is being viewed mostly as an ‘opening up’ because it means the end to the ban on travelers who’ve been in China, Iran, the European Schengen area, U.K. and Ireland, Brazil, South Africa or India in the prior 14 days.
However it’s also a closing down to unvaccinated travelers from other countries not on that list, even when presenting with a recent negative test for Covid-19.
And it’s even a closing down for travelers who have been vaccinated – just not with a vaccine on the approved list. The U.S. will accept any vaccine that is FDA approved with an emergency use authorization (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson) or which has World Health Organization authorization.
WHO approval adds AstraZeneca (including Covidshield) and Chinese vaccines from Sinopharm, and Sinovac to the list. Russia’s Sputnik vaccine is notably not accepted by the U.S. for travel, though it’s approved in 70 countries including Hungary and Slovakia and Mexico has ordered 24 million doses. India’s Covaxin is also not accepted. Individuals receiving these vaccines will be shut out of the United States in a matter of weeks.
A vaccine requirement involves several difficult questions.
- Which vaccines to accept?
- On what dosing schedule? For instance, the U.S. approved two Pfizer doses three weeks apart but is administering doses 8-12 week apart acceptable?
- And in what dosing amount, for instance some countries have expanded access to vaccines and stretched supplies by using half doses.
- How will vaccination be considered valid for – in other words, will boosters be required and if so on what schedule?
There’s no question that Sputnik trials have been messy and there have been questions raised about the data but the U.S. will accept Sinovac which was reportedly 51% effective against symptomatic disease prior to the introduction of current variants and according to the World Health Organization there is “no substantive data available” suggesting this vaccine reduces infection or transmission of the virus.
Only half the people in my home state of Texas are fully vaccinated, so surely anyone entering the U.S. after receiving the Sputnik shot has at least average protection. And since a negative Covid-19 test is necessary to enter the U.S. as well, Sputnik-vaccinated travelers seem less likely than the median Texan to be infectious (although this is somewhat dependent on the level of immunity in the state from prior infection).
Indeed, immunity from prior infection plus Sputnik should well be more protective than vaccines on the approved list for entry into the U.S. Immunity from prior infection alone may be more protective than Sinovac Coronavac.