A year ago people who were traveling – or even talking about or thinking about future travel – were being shamed over the need to stay home and beat the pandemic. Actual flying was safer than what many people might do at home, but airports lack the same HEPA filtration and downward airflow that reduce risk of virus transmission inflight. There was too much uncertainty and too much shut down to travel with confidence to many destinations. And we didn’t know nearly as much about the SARS-CoV-2 virus as we do today.
Now we have remarkably effective vaccines, delivered with historic speed. They protect the vaccinated person to tremendous degree. People often misunderstand, thinking that 95% effectiveness means that 5% of people aren’t protected. What it means is that vaccinated individuals are 95% less likely to get symptomatic Covid-19 than someone who isn’t vaccinated, and their risk may be less than 1 in 3 in a year.
These vaccines also cut down on spread to a remarkable degree. The CDC reports that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 90% effective against infection and not just symptomatic cases two weeks after he second shot. That means individuals who receive these vaccines aren’t a significant threat to others.
As the Director of the CDC said, “vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don`t get sick, and that it`s not just in the clinical trials but it`s also in real world data.”
We’re on the cusp of likely approval of the Pfizer-Modern vaccine for 12-15 year olds. Young children can’t get vaccinated yet, but they’re at statistically lower risk from Covid-19 than vaccinated older Americans.
I’m traveling again, many readers are as well. According to TSA data we’re back to an average of about 60% of 2019 travel levels. But it’s a reasonable choice not to travel, also.
As George Washington University Public Health professor Leanna Wen writes “there is no one-size-fits-all answer.”
On the one hand,
[I]f a family member is severely immunocompromised — for example, an organ transplant recipient taking anti-rejection medications. The vaccines might not protect such people as well, and there is a small chance that vaccinated people can still transmit the coronavirus, so the entire household might consider itself at high risk.
On the other hand,
If all adults are inoculated but the children are not yet, and the kids are generally healthy, I’d consider the household to have a low risk profile overall.
Ultimately, people need to make choices based on their own risk tolerance and values. A grandparent who wants to visit their grandchildren – and who has only so much time left to do so! – shouldn’t be shamed for that choice after they’ve been vaccinated. But someone who doesn’t value travel as much, and may come into contact with immunocompromised people, shouldn’t be faulted for taking a more cautious approach.
Some won’t dine in a restaurant or travel until the level of community transmission is lower. Others will have no concerns resuming all activities as long as they themselves are vaccinated. These are both reasonable decisions. We shouldn’t mock the cautious for taking things at their own pace, nor should we condemn those who engage in activities we might not dare ourselves. After all, vaccinated people pose very little threat to public health; our energy is better spent getting the unvaccinated to get the shots.
While travel shaming may have been understandable at the start of the pandemic, and getting out into the world may make sense for many that have been vaccinated, this is a time for tolerance of others’ risk profiles and preferences since we’re in an ‘in-between space’ where there’s still virus spreading and still people at great risk for it, even as an increasing number of people face very low risk to themselves and others.