There’s good reason to think that Omicron spreads more rapidly than previous versions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. That would be both because of inherent transmissibility and because of greater likelihood of breakthrough infections for those that have had Covid-19 before as well as those fully vaccinated (and even boosted) against it, though boosters do appear to provide greater protection than mere vaccination.
With Omicron appearing headed towards dominance in parts of Europe, outcompeting Delta, and with cases rising rapidly we are facing a conundrum.
- It may be that cases aren’t a true indicator of severity, because the virus could wind up less dangerous and those with prior infection and vaccination may also retain a strong degree of protection against severe disease. It also remains more than reasonable to believe – though there are formidable counterarguments – that less severe cases so far stem from age cohorts in which the variant first spread and from some protection provided by prior infection.)
- Either way there will still be a much greater degree of testing positive – including more breakthrough cases than in prior waves, and even for those that are boosted.
Omicron's formidable immune evasiveness:
First report of a cluster of 7 cases in young people all with 3rd shots 1-2 months previously, high anti-spike antibody levels. Symptoms mild to moderate https://t.co/jqVgPoQRct pic.twitter.com/3lubDdy1SA
— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) December 10, 2021
You have to test negative the day before international air travel to the U.S. And there may be a greater chance of testing positive than before. That makes international trips less convenient – uncertainty around when you’ll actually return, and extra cost associated with travel (from extra days staying outside the country quarantining).
Omicron may come rapidly, displacing Delta and leading to more cases. Even if it’s less severe that could be troublesome for hospitals. Cases could come more quickly than tailored boosters, and even more quickly than FDA approval for Paxlovid.
I’m vaccinated and I’m boosted and I’m not especially in an especially high risk category. I still believe it’s better to be boosted than delay travel if you’re not high risk, especially with new treatments (come on, FDA, maybe schedule that meeting on Paxlovid). Travel is likely less dangerous for me than dining or shopping at home in Texas or at least not more so. But international travel may be less convenient in the sense of being more uncertain – especially in the next coming of months.
The good news if the virus is less severe or no more severe, and hospitals aren’t overwhelmed also because of semi-protective immunity in the community, is that the total number of ‘cases’ may not be greater than they’d otherwise have been by any meaningful degree. They’ll just come more quickly, and thus spread will come and go rapidly. It could seem very difficult and then all of a sudden more o fus will protection from Omicron too. Hopefully future mutations in the virus will be less severe, and we’ll have Paxlovid and other treatments by then.
This is just one possible scenario, and the pandemic doesn’t have to play out this way for the point to remain. Most people plan their international travel in advance, and the scenario is plausible enough that there’s significant uncertainty. And uncertainty is a reason for many to reconsider international travel in January and February.
I do have trips booked for travel abroad in the first quarter of 2022. A couple of months ago I had considered buying paid tickets instead of redeeming miles, because there were some very good deals. But I kept to my policy of redeeming miles for trips booked reasonably far in advance for travel abroad due to the uncertainty – and refundability – of the strategy. My air and hotel can be cancelled completely without penalty.
All that said, summer international travel 2022 looks pretty darned good, unless further mutations are worse. Hopefully we” just have to get through a potentially very challenging start to the year and then (hopefully) restrictions relax in line with facts on the ground.