Once You Get Your Vaccine Shot, Wait Two Weeks, It’s Time To Travel

One Mile at a Time asks “What Does New Vaccine Timeline Mean For Travel?” now that the current expectation is enough doses in the U.S. for every adult by the end of May. What he’s really asking, I think, is once you’ve been vaccinated (and waited two weeks for full protection) and once community spread is significantly reduced (from vaccinations, immunity from prior infection, and seasonality), will you feel comfortable traveling?

  • Having enough vaccine for everyone doesn’t mean everyone is vaccinated. Two months from now everyone who wants a vaccine will have had one and we’ll be begging people to get vaccinated.

  • But being vaccinated yourself gives you a lot more freedom because of the extreme effectiveness of vaccines not just against symptomatic Covid-19 but against severe Covid and hospitalization. We can basically return to normal life.

  • There won’t be a lot of Covid-19 in spreading in the country this summer. But we are likely to see a resurgence come late fall and winter. We’ll need booster doses of vaccines, too.

  • In the meantime get what ever vaccine you can because it really isn’t symptoms we’re worried about it’s severe disease. And by the way the first shot of Moderna and Pfizer appears to have similar protectiveness to the first shot of Johnson & Johnson, by all means go get your second shot when it’s available to you (though we should be doing a ‘First Doses First’ regime similar to the U.K. and now British Columbia, Canada) but you don’t need to wait two weeks past the second shot to have dinner with friends.

Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned on CNBC’s SquawkBox this morning that the CDC’s guidance for what you can do once vaccinated is going to be far too conservative.

CDC is going to come out with guidance this week that is going to proscribe what people can do, particularly after they’re vaccinated. I think it’s going to be overly prescriptive and conservative and that’s the wrong message – because if we cntninue to be very prescriptive and not give people a realistic vision for what a better future is going to look like they’re going to start to ignore the public health guidance.

Suggesting that fully vaccinated people can have small gatherings in their homes with other fully vaccinated people only ignores the science that vaccines aren’t just ‘66% effective’ or ‘94.1% effective’ that’s data from clinical trials against symptoms, vaccination has been almost 100% effective against hospitalization and it’s been 100% effective against death and that is what we care about.

We don’t ‘not travel’ because of the risk of getting a cold or flu, we’ve been avoiding travel because of risk of severe disease and because we might overwhelm hospitals, especially ICU capacity. Vaccination so far seems to take that off the table. It also significantly limits spread of the virus.

And it has these properties against Covid-19 variants as well, even if immune response is reduced the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines produce a greater response to even the South African variant than someone who has recovered and gives the body a real head start fighting it off – again to prevent severe disease and hospitalization.

Other countries won’t open up so quickly, just like masking during travel won’t go away any time soon even if U.S. daily case counts dip below 10,000 in late June. There are still going to be limits on travel, and negative tests required to travel to many places. But where you’re allowed to travel, most people who do not have significant confounding factors (old age plus comorbidities) can generally feel comfortable traveling a couple of weeks after they’ve been vaccinated.

We haven’t even begun to tackle how to verify vaccination, by the way. In Singapore they’re using blockchain technology and electronic verification. We have CDC card stock.

We need at-home rapid testing (that you do not need a prescription for and that you don’t send off samples) and we need a reasonable way to verify vaccination. If you want to go to meetings and events, let those venues require vaccination and a negative test, but it has to be easy to demonstrate.

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. The short answer to your opening remarks… yes. I’ll feel comfortable getting in my car and heading to Georgetown TX to visit with friends. My wife and I have a wait and see attitude with regards to our favorite form of travel > flying.

    As of today, I’m 2 weeks past my 2nd dose of Pfizer. My wife is just a bit behind me. No rush.

  2. Had a lovely two weeks in the Dominican Republic in January (my wife stayed for a month) We were in Seattle in November and Florida in December. Before all that we went to Wisconsin twice, though that was by car. With reasonable precautions I’d say there is every reason to travel, though understand that others may seriously disagree. (We’re 70 and very healthy, just had our first shots, but decided we weren’t going to put our lives on hold either.)

  3. The only thing known for certain about the current crop of Covid vaccines is that they are considered to prevent death and major illness, both major welcome outcomes in a country in chaos with 500,000 plus deaths and still rising.
    While you may get vaccinated and ready to party, you may notice that the international party invitations are extremely thin on the ground. There are countries desperate for the US $$$ and therefore happy to see you, but since that idea backfired badly over summer they might be a little more circumspect now.

  4. I think the overly prescriptive guidance is twofold:

    One, they want to avoid the vaccine passport problem when not everyone is eligible for the vaccine. They basically want everyone to continue to limit activities until a certain point to stop further runs on vax supplies if different places start implementing a “show me your papers” mentality. You can argue this was similar to the mask guidance at the beginning of the pandemic and to your point on how this might come back to blow up in another two months time may be very similar to those who still point out the Fauci at one point didn’t advocate for masks.

    Second, a lot of these vaccine studies were completed before the third wave (Dec/Jan) and the new variants which means they were done in an environment with less COVID out there as a baseline. I think there is a lot of hope that the combination of folks, even those vaccinated, taking reasonable precautions, combined with actual jabs continuing to go into arms, will significantly reduce the viral load out there, and fast. I think there is a real worry that folks get too lazy/complacent and the fourth wave is among us before we know it.

  5. We agree with you, Gary. Both my wife and I received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine in January and February. We’ve now decided to go to St. Lucia at the end of the month. Are we older with co-morbidities? Yes. Are we willing to spend a significant chunk of the time we have left staying at home or in isolation? A resounding NO!

    The problem with most government bureaucrats is that they will err on the side of risk avoidance to prevent being blamed when someone gets the disease. The decision for each of us is a careful balance of personal risk, and risk of harming others through our personal conduct, against the benefit of returning to our travel and life pre-pandemic. This is no different from the decisions we make every day. (E.g., if I go through the yellow light to get where I am going faster, what is the risk of causing a collision and injury to myself or others?).

    Israeli studies on the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine, in reducing the risk of getting COVID (about 95+% in the real world), reducing the risk of serious disease or death (almost 100% in the real world), and reducing the risk of transmitting the virus to others (greater than 80%) makes this an easy answer for the two of us.

  6. “Two months from now everyone who wants a vaccine will have had one and we’ll be begging people to get vaccinated”

    No, even Biden today indicated that it will take through the summer to vaccinate people. Government won’t even have vaccines for everyone until the end of May and then they need to be distributed, so this is just a lie.

    “We can basically return to normal life.” There is NO proof of this yet. They are still studying the vaccines to see if they will prevent people from carrying the virus. While the vaccine might protect the person who received it (assuming there are no variants that evade the vaccine which would set us back significantly) there is still the potential scenario where quarantine will remain in effect to protect people from travelers infecting the local population.

    “though we should be doing a ‘First Doses First’ regime similar to the U.K. and now British Columbia, Canada) but you don’t need to wait two weeks past the second shot to have dinner with friends.” – ok doctor. You don’t have the full immunity until that point yet, so if someone is smart they will wait a few days for the max protection instead of rushing out and risking it all for a meal.

    “There won’t be a lot of Covid-19 in spreading in the country this summer.” Umm because covid doesn’t surge in the summer. Explain Florida last summer then?

    “vaccination has been almost 100% effective against hospitalization and it’s been 100% effective against death and that is what we care about.” Tell that to the long haulers who have had shortness of breath and other issues for nine months now. Who the heck knows the long term impacts of this virus, but what we do know for sure there have been some long term impacts. Maybe even a shortening of people’s lifespans.

    Really its like you put together as much disinformation or mere assumptions that you try to pass of as fact as you could with this post. Next thing you will be telling us that nobody needs to wear masks anymore. I know that is a thing now in Texas.

  7. It’s amazing reading the nonsense that is being offered about these shots, they’re not vaccines. I can’t believe the number of people who have been fooled by this hoax and continue to be. It speaks volumes about the level of critical thinking in society.

  8. @Bill – you underestimate vaccine hesitancy, sure it would take into summer to vaccinate every American but not every American will go out and get vaccinated.

    “They are still studying the vaccines to see if they will prevent people from carrying the virus. ” We have strong data that the vaccines significantly reduce spread.

    “because covid doesn’t surge in the summer. Explain Florida last summer then?” we’ll see seasonality but remember last summer nearly everyone was vulnerable to the virus, and it spread in places where people retreated to indoor gatherings because of the heat.

    “Tell that to the long haulers who have had shortness of breath and other issues for nine months now” this is used as an argument against the vaccine but you’re not talking about people who have been vaccinated.

  9. Been at the WA Maldives the last 10 days…. haven’t touched a mask, haven’t seen anyone have a mask…. amazingly normal

  10. I’ve been traveling regularly since May. I get my second shot next week. My behavior hasn’t changed. Aside from now I’ll probably forge any COVID tests that will be required for travel.

    I feel bad for anyone “waiting” for the CDC to tell them what’s “safe”.

    Public health officials and their constant Dyer doomsday predictions, have done themselves a great deal of this service. It will take a long time, if ever, before people will listen to them or care what they have to say. I sure don’t care.

  11. You say we don’t travel because of the risk of severe disease and overwhelming ICUs, which the vaccine should prevent. I agree with that. But I can also envision a situation in which you take the vaccine and have a mild case, but it still trips you up if you’re trying to fly back to the US from a foreign country. Or needing to isolate while in a foreign country.

  12. I have done some travel by air. But I’m not ready to do more until the hassle factor (masks, reduced service, etc) is ended. The risk will never be completely mitigated. It’s time to start getting back to normal.

  13. I received my first shot today and I’ll me in Mexico next weekend. All I care about is death and feel comfortable knowing this one shot should prevent that. I just hope a week is enough for my body to work effectively.

  14. The Gottlieb quote is spot on. The “You can’t do anything now or in the foreseeable future even if you’re vaccinated so stay at home indefinitely” crowd accomplishes three things:

    1) A despair for ever getting our lives back if we wait on official blessing to live again; 2) Support for premature re-openings such as we are seeing now, since it seems they’re never going to relent anyway; and 3) Vaccine hesitancy, since whatever minuscule risk the vaccines may have will for some tip the scales against doing something that won’t be rewarded to the extent it should be..

    I think once 50% of us are fully vaccinated, the momentum and demand to return to normal – including travel – will be very strong. There will either need to be a vaccine passport system for a while for some activities, or a complete opening up, with the realization that those who don’t get vaccinated (when all are able to) will be doing so at their own choice and at their own risk.

  15. Many of us in the full-vaccine group will soon be boarding planes to visit out of state children and grandchildren or just to take a sunny beach vacation. But until more of us are vaccinated, I will still happily wear my mask on the off chance that I can still transmit the virus to others. My home state, New York, just lifted testing and quarantine restrictions for anyone who has received their second vaccine within the past 90 days, so that’s a plus.

  16. There is nothing else after the vaccine. If you can’t do X once vaccines are available to anyone who wants one, you are saying that you can’t do X *forever*.

    Conditional on having a vaccine, your age-adjusted risk of death or hospitalization is about 1/2 that of the flu in a normal year, and that’s with Covid circulating at its winter level from this year. I think it’s bonkers than anyone would restrict their live to avoid those odds.

    Also, the end of May figure from Biden is just as conservative as the July one was originally. There will be enough doses for 200m people to be vaccinated by the end of April. If we got 200m people who actually signed up – 80% of all adults – it would be an outright miracle. There is a reason that a number of states are anticipating opening up even for the young with no comorbidities in mid-April, which is 6 weeks from now!

  17. ““Tell that to the long haulers who have had shortness of breath and other issues for nine months now” this is used as an argument against the vaccine but you’re not talking about people who have been vaccinated.” Actually it applies to vaccinated people as well specifically with the J&J vaccine which still has a number of people developing mild to moderate cases of covid. Yes the vaccine will keep people alive and out of hospital, but these long haul symptoms have also occurred in people who had very mild cases of covid. It applies to the other vaccines as well but those are much more effective compared to the J&J. There is still a lot we don’t understand about the long term repercussions of this virus even in mild cases and sometimes even asymptomatic cases.

  18. There is merit to erring on the side of risk avoidance. As a pilot, the saying about old pilots and bold pilots has a lot of validity. If Kobe Bryant’s pilot had respected the risks of encountering instrument meteorological conditions when he wasn’t proficient in flying in them, he and his eight passengers wouldn’t have ended up splattered all over a Calabasas hillside.

    I wish Gary would state the odds of each vaccine preventing serious illness or death. If its 1%, or .5% or .01% and those were the odds of being killed in a crash on any given flight, would you get on the plane or enjoy the experience if you did? People who want to knowingly assume the risks for themselves should go for it. More power to them.

    I’ve had both Pfizer shots but am waiting for a while before traveling. Plane travel, lounges and airports aren’t much fun now and unless headed for soon to be Covid hotspots like Texas and Mississippi, or a few foreign destinations, there’s not much to do. That may last for awhile because after high risk groups get vaccinated, the rest of the population may feel there is little yo gain for them to get the jabs. Herd immunity may take longer than people think.

  19. @Gary – Another data point for you. The Navy base where I work has just changed regs from “if you get on a plane, you have to isolate for 14 days before coming on base” to “”if you are immunized (two shots of vaccine) and wait two weeks, you can fly and immediately come on base”. Interestingly, if you have had Covid and recovered, you are also assume to have immunity for 90 days and can come on base after flying. If you have not had two shots, you must isolate for 10 days now.

  20. Not to be a downer but as you tout swinging the door wide open after vaccination are you not forgetting that little is known as to the degree with which you can still carry the virus and spread it to others who are not vaccinated? Asking for a friend.

  21. Keep preaching, Gary.
    There are way too many people that want to hide behind covid to refuse to rejoin life. they are free to sit on the sidelines.
    Just don’t call anyone neanderthals because they chooseto move back to normality. (I think that was also a racist statement)

    I’ve said it for months. There will be governmental leaders fall because of their handling of covid.

    And states that open up will permanently be stronger as people go where they see opportunity.

  22. “We don’t ‘not travel’ because of the risk of getting a cold or flu, we’ve been avoiding travel because of risk of severe disease and because we might overwhelm hospitals, especially ICU capacity.“

    That’s a great point Gary, something that I never thought of before. Yes, we can and should still take the necessary precautions while traveling, but I worry that the government/CDC will maintain their stance of putting all these barriers in place when it comes to flying to/from a country (e.g. proof of negative test) as a black and white, yes or no option when this should be treated more like the flu. I’m not discounting the severity of this virus and how it can seriously affect people, and yes, many people including myself did happen to catch it (on my last of 6 international trips despite being very careful) and didn’t suffer any major symptoms or health issues. While more and more of us might have antibodies from a prior infection and/or will soon be vaccinated, the risks of ‘catching’ it isn’t as much of an issue vs. becoming severely sick. Yet, leisure travel will still have many different hurdles placed on it that will impact people from feeling comfortable with taking trips (e.g. uncertainty of taking tests while abroad, being let back into the country, having to quarantine, etc.) while further disrupting various economies. Like you said, if I we were worried about catching the flu or a cold while on a trip, we would never go anywhere.

  23. Great summary.

    The CDC also recommends you eat your steak well-done and your eggs hard-cooked. The last year has been exceptional, but soon they will return to excessively conservative recommendations and we will be able to return to normal life with very low risk.

  24. 1) If there is enough vaccine, the tables flip and WE get to say STAY HOME if you don’t want the vaccine to people afraid. There will be enough herd immunity on planes and travel for the few who cannot travel, and those at crazy high risk are not traveling during flu season either. WE HAVE WAITED A YEAR. My second shot is tomorrow. I am outta here this summer.
    2) States have back up electronic records of all “card stock.” It won’t be too hard to verify with a bit of effort. It could be embedded into Read ID if it needed to be. That happens this year too.

  25. As a doctor, I can honestly say that the only thing in this article which is “too conservative” is Scott Gottlieb.

    I don’t know what they taught at HIS medical school, but he clearly didn’t understand it.

    Vaccination in a pandemic is not just about what you can get away with doing yourself afterwards. Vaccinated people can often travel with a minimal PERSONAL risk of serious illness, but while their risk of carriage and transmission is reduced it is still potentially lethal TO OTHERS.

    In essence, a vaccinated person who travels before 70% of the population at his origin AND destination are immune (from catching it, or by 85% of the population having had both doses) is a sociopath. A person who cares only about their selfish desires and ignores the vulnerability of others.

    This is a travel blog and I miss travel. But I know that there is an entire ethical dimension to travel during a pandemic. Unfortunately, people who care only about themselves will travel before everyone else is vaccinated, and to do so is no different to putting bleach in other people’s drinking water.

  26. Everyone is being so incredibly short-sighted. I just spoke to my friend who is a professor at Harvard Medical School researching these viruses. He’s extremely worried that due to the reckless actions of vaccinated people, a partially immune population (both in the sense of insufficient vaccine administration and in the sense of vaccines only conferring partial immunity against certain new variants) will exert intense evolutionary pressure on the virus to adapt, leading to the rapid spread and further mutation of immunity-escaping variants, and we will be back to March 2020. By opening up as quickly as possible, we give the virus maximum opportunity to mutate further and further, faster than we can develop boosters for these mutants. If we wait patiently for another half a year, prevent further mutations, and open up after administering the boosters that cover the current variants, we have a real chance at ending this pandemic. Otherwise, we’re going to be suffering for years and years, just because we were the kid who always ate the marshmallow.

  27. @James N – you’re really just boring now…the hoax is now being treated by a fake vaccine? 1/10 on the effort scale. Why do you even bother posting your one-note responses here every week, why not just take it to the corpse of Parler?

  28. The link below is very important in terms of your own health and precautions. It is also very important in terms of whether you care about older people. If you look at this link you will see that people in their 70s and 80s are thousands of times more likely to die from this virus then people in their twenties. So the question you have to ask yourself is do you want to take the risk of killing your parents or grandparents?


  29. Or to put it in the colorful phrasing of Harry Callahan,
    “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

  30. I’m looking forward to when my group is eligible for the vaccine on March 24th and will schedule an appointment for my wife and myself as soon thereafter as possible. However, that isn’t stopping me from traveling. Been on 10-12 trips since last June including casino visits, golf trips and family trip to Florida for a week (with another family). Not putting my life on hold. I do wear a mask (double mask w KN95 in airports and on flights), distance and wash hands religiously. Also, I have a very strong immune system and take vitamins plus eat healthy (lots of antioxidants and Vitamins A and C) to enhance it.

    Sure I’m taking some risks but willing to do so. Obviously will feel better when I get the vaccine but not waiting on that. Oh yeah I’ll be in Las Vegas 4/5-4/9 which will likely be after my first shot but well before the 14-21 days when immunity really builds up.

  31. I’m booked from the plague-ravaged island of England to the US in early April. Had my shots and ready to go. About $800 in tests alone. Whatever.

  32. dee,
    Since you question DavidF’s qualifications based on which medical school he attended, I’m curious which medical school you attended. I am also curious what you consider “overkill” in his analysis. Unlike much of the commentary on this thread, his seems one of the most informed and thoughtful. I’d be curious how about your analysis of the situation and what you consider to be the weaknesses of DavidF’s analysis.

  33. @UA-NYC…I guess because I foolishly believe that morons like you might eventually figure it out. Shame on me for thinking you’re capable of activating a few neurons.

  34. @ Tokyo Hyatt Fan — LOL

    @ Gary — Can’ travel soon enough. Hopefully get to see some places without a bunch of tourists…

  35. @James N – still taking the blue pill I see? You really don’t get it man…free your mind and take the red pill already.

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