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CDC Says Travel Is Safe 2 Weeks After Getting A Final COVID-19 Vaccine Dose

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The CDC issued new travel guidance today. The agency says people who've been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can travel safely two weeks after their final dose. But the agency is still advising against nonessential trips given the current rise in cases. NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us to help sort out the details. And, Allison, what are some more specifics from this new guidance?

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Hi there. Well, I mean, the upshot is that given the effectiveness of the vaccine, the agency says that people who are fully vaccinated can safely travel. Here's CDC director Rochelle Walensky. She announced the new guidance at a White House briefing today.

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ROCHELLE WALENSKY: For example, fully vaccinated grandparents can fly to visit their healthy grandkids without getting a COVID-19 test or self-quarantining provided they follow the other recommended prevention measures while traveling.

AUBREY: She says if it's international travel, the guidance is a bit different. Tests are required before you board a plane back to the U.S. And another test is actually recommended after you return to the U.S. because, Audie, there's still some risk of becoming infected even after vaccination. The risk is low, but it's not zero. And Dr. Walensky says for all the people who are not vaccinated yet, the CDC continues to advise against all nonessential travel.

CORNISH: This change in policy - it doesn't seem like it's officially encouraging travel.

AUBREY: No, it's not. I mean, Dr. Walensky says at this moment, with about 60,000 new cases a day and more contagious variants circulating out there, it's kind of tough to provide guidance because the situation is changing week to week. The science is evolving quickly. So she acknowledged that sometimes the messages from the CDC may seem contradictory.

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WALENSKY: On the one hand, we are telling you we are worried about rising cases and to avoid travel. Yet on the other hand, we are saying that if you are vaccinated, evolving data suggests that traveling is likely lower-risk.

AUBREY: So essentially here, she's saying, look. Be cautious. She's saying, if you're vaccinated, your risk might be low, but the virus is still circulating widely. And right now only about 22% of the adult population in the U.S. has been fully vaccinated. So she is certainly not signaling a green light for everyone to hop on a plane, a train or a bus.

CORNISH: What's been the reaction from experts and infectious disease specialist or physicians?

AUBREY: You know, I think the reality is that even before today's guidance, many people in the U.S. were already traveling. I mean, you can see this in the TSA airport screening data. More than 1.5 million people got on a plane yesterday, for instance. And with the spring holidays, it is clear more people are on the go. So I think the important message I hear from a lot of infectious disease experts is that when it comes to safety, it's not so much the decision to travel. That's just part of the equation. You really have to look at what people are doing when they travel. Here's Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania.

EZEKIEL EMANUEL: I think people can travel, but you should remember to adhere to the public health measures - wearing a face mask, trying to do as many things outdoors as you can, washing your hands. People still can't let their guard down.

AUBREY: There's a cause for vigilance going forward. That's why there's so much emphasis on getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Allison Aubrey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.