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Vaccinated Travelers Urged To Be Cautious As Pandemic Persists


The FDA and the CDC are calling for a pause in the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Six women who got that vaccine developed blood clots between a week to two weeks after getting it. Now, that is very rare, but the CDC says it will complete a full review. We'll have more on this story throughout the morning. We're going to look now at what the CDC is advising on something different - travel. The agency says it is safe for fully vaccinated people to travel, but in some parts of the country, cases are surging. And of course, not everyone has gotten their shots. So what does safe travel look like? NPR health correspondent Maria Godoy is with us.

Good morning, Maria.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Let's disambiguate some of this. The CDC says if you are fully vaccinated, you can travel. But the CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, says avoid nonessential travel. What is the message the CDC is trying to communicate here?

GODOY: Well, basically, the CDC is saying, go ahead and travel if you're vaccinated fully, but don't go crazy. Remember that the majority of people in the U.S. have not been vaccinated yet. There are contagious variants out there, so it's not time to let down our guards. Dr. Henry Wu is head of the TravelWell Center at Emory University, and he says the threshold for travel should be higher than usual. Consider why you're traveling. Do you really need to go now? So maybe now is not the time for, say, a tour of Europe with your choir.

HENRY WU: I certainly don't question, though, if somebody does need to visit somebody or needs to get away, you know, for their own health. And these are all important.

GODOY: In other words, if you need to get away for your mental health or you haven't seen your mother in a year, go ahead and go if you're fully vaccinated.

KING: And so if you do decide to travel, what steps should you take to minimize risk?

GODOY: Well, first, if you're not vaccinated before you book your vacation, book your vaccination. And leave enough time to build up your immunity after the shot. Here's Dr. David Aronoff. He's an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.

DAVID ARONOFF: If someone is going to choose to travel, it is really best to wait until they're fully vaccinated, which means two weeks at least after their vaccine schedule is completed. So that's either a two-dose vaccine or a one-dose vaccine with Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

GODOY: But remember - even if you are fully vaccinated, you still need to wear a mask and keep your physical distance when traveling. That's because, for starters, the vaccines are excellent, but they're not 100% effective, and not everyone around you is vaccinated. And also, you should think about how you're traveling. Are you driving, flying, taking a train? And where are you staying?

KING: What is the advice on which is less risky - driving, flying, taking a train? How does that work?

GODOY: Well, driving will reduce your risk because you just won't come into contact with as many people. But flying is relatively safe as long as you wear a mask and do what you can to avoid crowds - so carry-on luggage so you'll avoid standing in lines for bags, and eat ahead to avoid eating at the airport or on the plane. And in terms of where to stay, if you aren't vaccinated, a vacation rental is less risky. But if you are vaccinated, a hotel is fine, though you still want to wear a mask in the common areas.

KING: And this will be a big question with the summer coming up - if people want to plan family vacations but can't get the kids vaccinated yet, what's the advice there?

GODOY: Yeah, the calculus there is a bit different. Even though the risk of severe illness is lower in kids, it's not zero, and they can transmit the virus. So keep gatherings involving kids small. Consider driving instead of flying. Rent a vacation house or go camping. Avoid huge family reunions and crowded amusement parks for now. But remember that this advice is likely to evolve as more people get vaccinated. It's not forever.

KING: Not forever, but the big curveball is international travel - not all the rules apply on that one.

GODOY: It's far more complicated. You have to know the rules of the country you're going to. Many require negative COVID tests to enter, and you may also have to quarantine.

KING: NPR health correspondent Maria Godoy. Thanks, Maria.

GODOY: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Maria Godoy is a senior science and health editor and correspondent with NPR News. Her reporting can be heard across NPR's news shows and podcasts. She is also one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.

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