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    14 Ways The COVID-19 Vaccines Could Change Travel From Here On Out, According To Experts

    Getting vaccinated is a step in the right direction, but not a cure-all.

    If all you can think about is when you'll be able to travel normally again, you’re not alone.

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    In a Tripadvisor survey conducted in late December (after the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were authorized by the FDA), 45% of US travelers said they planned to travel internationally in 2021, while 14% said they’ve already booked tickets.

    And while everyone is itching to get out of town, even fully vaccinated people need to take safety precautions and be aware of the risks.

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    According to clinical trial data, the Moderna vaccine was shown to be 94.1% effective and the Pfizer vaccine 95% effective at preventing illness from COVID-19, but there are still some major unknowns: Can vaccinated people still spread the coronavirus to others? And how long are vaccinated people protected from the virus?

    “Right now what we know about the vaccines is that they are effective in that they prevent severe sickness and death from COVID-19. What we don’t yet know about the vaccine is if it reduces transmission of the virus from one person to another,” said Pia MacDonald, PhD, who has 25 years experience in domestic and international epidemiological research and public health. “From a population and public health perspective, we need to reduce travel for much longer.”

    So I chatted with a few experts to find out what travel may look like in a post-vaccine world. Here's what they said:

    1. You’ll likely need to wear a face mask — even when traveling domestically.

    2. And for international travel, you might need some sort of vaccination passport — and potentially a negative COVID-19 test.

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    “International travel is a much more complicated situation where I believe we will need a vaccine report card or passport — some electronic or paper or form indicating to the airport you disembark at that you have the vaccine,” said Pastides.

    In the US, tech companies like Microsoft and Salesforce have teamed up to form the Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI), which is working to create a platform that gives people digital access to their vaccination records so they can “demonstrate their health status.” And United Airlines launched a Travel-Ready Center in the United app that allows travelers to store vaccination records and test results.

    Earlier this month, the US announced it would now require a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery from the virus for all arriving air passengers. This requirement lines up with Pastides’ prediction for future travel: “I think it's going to be not only the vaccination history, but also the negative COVID test 2–3 days before arrival and possibly the same on arrival and possibly the same thing on returning home.”

    3. If you aren't able (or refuse) to get the vaccine, travel may be harder.

    Doctor writing COVID-19 vaccination record card after vaccination on patient.
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    There's no doubt that some sort of vaccine passport would make it easier for vaccinated people to travel — showing proof of vaccination is easier than quarantining or getting tested — but it's unknown how the introduction of such a measure could affect unvaccinated people.

    In speaking to the likelihood of a vaccination passport for travel, Pastides said, “I think that either you have [a vaccine passport] or you’re not coming in."

    Meanwhile, some experts question the fairness of such requirements and worry that it will lead to further inequality. "Basing reentry into society on just when you get the vaccine could just further entrench inequalities that have arisen," Nita Farahany, professor of law and philosophy at Duke University and expert on the intersection of technology, bioscience, and society, recently told MIT Technology Review. "Trust by minority populations in healthcare and health institutions is very low right now."

    4. Some countries will be more lax about travel — while others will have more restrictions.

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    As we've already seen, travel restrictions vary greatly by country, and both Pastides and MacDonald agree that even during and after the rollout of the vaccine, every country is going to have to decide how much they want to open their borders — and to who.

    Pastides said that “those that are more thirsty for tourism, may be a little more lax,” but that travelers should do their research so they're aware of any mutated strains or outbreaks that could put them in danger.

    5. If you truly want to minimize risk, you should wait until we reach herd immunity.

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    Herd immunity happens when enough people are immune to a disease (like COVID-19), due to having previously been infected or through vaccination. This makes it tricky for the disease to spread within the community.

    In the US, it’s been estimated that 75% of the population need to be vaccinated for us to reach herd immunity — a percentage President Joe Biden said will be challenging to reach by the end of summer 2021.

    Pastides noted, “It’s the only thing that will predict a return to normalcy because the virus will continue to adapt and mutate" — as we've seen with the recent strains that have popped up.

    6. Or, wait for scientists to conclude whether the vaccines prevent the transmission of the virus or not.

    doctor holding covid-19 vaccine vile
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    MacDonald says that if scientists are able to confirm that the current vaccines prevent transmission — or if a vaccine that does is released — it will have a huge impact on travel.

    “Travel is more about transmission, and I think the key turning point will be if we are learning more securely whether the current vaccines are able to prevent transmission.” Preliminary findings from a study done by Oxford University on the AstraZeneca vaccine (which is being used in Britain) claim that the vaccine may reduce transmission. MacDonald said she thinks it is "highly likely" that the vaccines in the US may also be able to prevent or reduce transmission.

    7. Either way, you should prepare for the possibility that the risk of COVID-19 while traveling may never go away.

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    "COVID will not completely go away, in my opinion," said Pastides. "There will be annual rates of COVID and annual strains of COVID for the rest of my lifetime. That's my prediction." He explained that as the virus becomes more controlled and the percentage of unvaccinated people goes down, it will just become less risky.

    "We tolerate all sorts of health risks from travel and I think we'll start accepting the COVID risk — not right away, but more in the near-term future than the long-term future."

    8. If you have to travel early on, there are ways to go about it responsibly.

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    According to MacDonald, if you absolutely must travel (for work or something similar), you can take steps to minimize risk for yourself and those around you.

    “Always masking, keeping physical distance, eating outside,” MacDonald said, before adding, “Quarantining, testing…as well as handwashing.”

    9. You'll also still need to research travel restrictions and the coronavirus situation at your destination.

    sign on Trans-Canada Highway "Avoid non-essential travel"
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    Before, when you booked a trip you probably just took into account where you wanted to go and how affordable flights and hotels were. But in a COVID world, Pastides said, “It’s not simply a matter of wanting to go to New Zealand, but what New Zealand will come up with in regard to possible restrictions. Will there be quarantining, will the vaccine be enough, will you have to be tested on arrival?”

    MacDonald notes that in addition to reviewing the rules and regulations of the country you're departing from and arriving to, you’ll have to consider any stopovers. “You’ll want to know what the rates are in those places and the places where you’re traveling in between.” She said travelers should also consider how many resources the country has to manage the outbreak. For example, some countries will have higher vaccination rates, more testing, and better healthcare than others.

    10. In addition to considering your own health, you have to think about the people you’ll come in contact with.

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    Even if you're able to get fully vaccinated and feel ready to get back out there, you have to consider all the people you’ll be traveling with and the people at your destination; they may not be vaccinated, and they may have a different risk tolerance than you.

    “You have individual risk and risk tolerance, and then you have the community you're going into and their risk tolerance,” MacDonald said. So, in short, you wouldn't want to bring the virus to a community that either hasn’t had access to the vaccine yet or still doesn’t feel comfortable welcoming travelers from across the world.

    11. International travel, in particular, will pose risks because you’ll be interacting with people from all over the world.

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    Traveling to other countries puts you in contact with people who may have a very different approach to the virus and may have been exposed to different variants. As we’ve seen already, travelers have the ability to catch and carry variants of the virus — which emerged in the UK, Brazil, and South Africa — to the US.

    Pastides pointed out that when you travel internationally, “you might have people from every continent in the world” in one room. While MacDonald noted that “you also have to consider who you’re riding in the airplane with. Thinking through, Who will I be mixing with in my journey? Are those the people who I've been mixing with or not?

    12. Airlines might maintain their new cleaning policies — but when it’s deemed as safe, temperature checks and masks may be the first things to go.

    naomi campbell cleaning her seat on a plane
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    “I'd say about 90% of our policy changes around cleaning are here for the long term even after the pandemic ends," said Aaron McMillan, a managing director on United Airlines' Customer Strategy and Innovation team. "However, requirements like temperature checks and mask requirements may be some of the first policies we roll back when we get to a place where vaccines are more widely rolled out, though it will still probably be a while before we make changes to those requirements.”

    13. The touchless airport experience is likely here to stay — and may be expanded.

    person using a check in kiosk at the airport
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    During the start of the pandemic, checking in luggage with airport personnel was replaced by a touchless bag drop in a matter of days. It's a change that keeps both travelers and workers safe (and makes travel just a little easier).

    McMillan explains that at United, “we are really doubling down on making things touchless and continue to invest in reducing touchpoints across the travel journey with us.”

    14. And to end on some good news: The shift toward customer-focused travel — i.e. no more dreaded airline change fees — may be here to stay.

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    If you had to change your travel plans before the pandemic, you’d expect to pay sky-high change fees. These days, that’s no longer the case, with major US airlines nixing change fees in light of travel instability.

    In the hotel world, the outlook is much the same. Carolyne Doyon, CEO and president of Club Med North America, said that, "for the foreseeable future, we predict hotels will continue providing added flexibility to their guests."

    Don't forget to check out Bring Me! for all of BuzzFeed's best travel tips and hacks, vacation inspiration, and more!

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