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Non-essential travel a low risk for the vaccinated, CDC says in new guidance for Americans

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested for the coronavirus or going into quarantine afterward.

CDC cites recent vaccine research for the change, but says it isn't recommending widespread travel

Travellers check in for a flight at LaGuardia Airport in New York on Feb. 2, 2021. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested for the coronavirus or going into quarantine afterward. (Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested for the coronavirus or going into quarantine afterward.

Previously, the agency had cautioned against unnecessary travel even for vaccinated people, but noted that it would update its guidance as more people got vaccinated and evidence mounted about the protection the shots provide.

Even with the new guidance, however, U.S. health officials said at a briefing on Friday that they hoped the recommendation wouldn't be taken up in great numbers anytime soon, even by the those vaccinated.

"While we believe that fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves, CDC is not recommending travel at this time due to the rising number of cases," said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.

Walensky — who earlier in the week said she had a feeling of "impending doom" due to widely circulating variants and states opening up activity prematurely — said there had been an eight per cent increase in reported cases on Friday since the previous CDC report.

Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska's College of Public Health, said the update reinforces the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, and is another incentive for people to get vaccinated.

"Every day you get more data, and you change your guidance based on the existing data," said Khan.

According to the CDC, nearly 100 million people in the U.S. — or about 30 per cent of the population — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose of vaccine. Some 56 million people have been fully vaccinated, officials said Friday.

As well, unvaccinated people are still advised to avoid unnecessary travel.

The new travel guidance says:

  • Fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S., without getting tested for the coronavirus or quarantining. People should still wear a mask, maintain physical distance and avoid crowds, the agency says.
  • For international travel, the agency says vaccinated people do not need to get a COVID-19 test before leaving, though some destinations may require it.
  • Vaccinated people should still get a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight to the U.S. and be tested three to five days after returning. They do not need to quarantine. The agency noted the potential introduction of virus variants and differences in vaccine coverage around the world for the cautious guidance on overseas travel.

The CDC cited recent research on the real-world effects of the vaccines for its updated guidance. Already, the agency had said fully vaccinated people could visit with each other indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.

It also said vaccinated people could visit with unvaccinated people from a single household under similar conditions, as long as the unvaccinated individuals were at low risk for severe illness if infected.

The U.S. began its vaccine rollout in mid-December. The first vaccines — from Pfizer and Moderna — require two doses taken a few weeks apart. A one-shot vaccine by Johnson & Johnson was given the green light by regulators at the end of February.

With files from CBC News

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