TESTING 1-2 -3
Business Traveler|June/July 2021
For now, COVID-19 tests are likely to be part of your travel experience. Here’s your guide to what to look for and where to find it
DAN BOOTH
With the arrival of the first effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccines late last year, the end of the pandemic-induced travel slowdown appeared to be just on the horizon. Now, six months into an intense global vaccination campaign, nearly 1.5 billion doses have been administered worldwide and some countries and regions are already opening up. The positive impact on travel is thankfully beginning to show, with leisure bookings on the rise and bright spots glimmering in the business travel sector.

But wait a minute. With all this good news, why is so much of the world still in pandemic mode? In some regions cases are still spiking at alarming rates, even as the curve bends downward in many developed countries – most notably in the US, formerly the virus’ global hotspot. And even here, ever-changing mask mandates and pre-travel testing requirements are still in place, at least as we go to press, including for people who have received vaccinations.

Although a billion-plus shots have already been delivered and millions more are being administered practically every day, we still labor under the constraints put in place months ago when public health officials had no better options. The ambiguity has many travelers asking, “When can we ditch the masks and swabs and go back to a normal life?” The vaccines which were developed at lightning-speed were supposed to tamp down the raging pandemic fires, and eventually they probably will. But for now, that promise has not yet been realized.

ALL ABOUT THE DATA

The apparent disconnect is down to one word: Data. Or more precisely, three words: Lack of data. As is the case with so much of the coronavirus, there is a great deal we don’t know. In the deadly winter of 2020, the initial goal of vaccine developers was saving lives; in that regard the current vaccines are an unqualified success. According to data from the CDC at the end of April 26, the rate of hospitalizations and deaths among people who became infected despite being fully vaccinated was 0.0009 and 0.0001 percent, respectively.

How effective the vaccines are at preventing an infected person from passing this highly transmissible virus along is another question, one for which science still doesn’t have a definitive answer. While the debate continues, there are some hopeful signs emerging from the limited data available. Agence France-Presse reports that a study of British health workers revealed an 86 percent reduction in asymptomatic infection after two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. An even larger study among the general population of Israel showed 94 percent efficacy. Further research out of Israel found even when a vaccinated person becomes infected, the viral loads inside the individual's nose are very low, likely non-transmissible.

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