Since January, all travelers must test negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours of entering the U.S. There are many reports in recent months of both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers testing positive within the last three days of their trip.
This can completely upend re-entry plans because a positive test result means delaying a return to the U.S.. Travelers must get retested until they receive a negative test result and, in the meantime, they must remain in their destination at their own expense, often under quarantine or isolation orders.
To give themselves an extra insurance policy against becoming a breakthrough case, some fully vaccinated American travelers are finagling a third shot of the vaccine a few weeks before leaving on their trip — even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to give booster shots an official green light. In some cases, they are simply presenting themselves as unvaccinated at pharmacies or other vaccine providers in order to get another dose. Others are getting a booster with the blessing of their doctors.
“People are acting in their own self-interest, and that doesn’t shock me,” said Dr. Kavita Patel, a primary care physician in Washington, D.C., who served as an advisor on health policy in the Obama administration.
“It’s unfortunate, because there remains no evidence that if you’re under 65 years old and otherwise healthy, that you need a third shot right now,” said Dr. Vin Gupta, a pulmonary critical-care physician and an affiliate assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. “There needs to be guardrails here. We need to understand what three doses mean. Are we protected for five years or just another eight months? There are lots of open questions.”
The Biden administration has urged the FDA to release a booster rollout plan as soon as possible, given that some Americans, including first responders and immunocompromised people, received their initial doses in 2020 and officials want the most vulnerable people to be at the front of the line for boosters.
The FDA is currently evaluating when a wider swath of vaccinated Americans should begin receiving Covid-19 booster shots, which is likely to be either six or eight months after completing their initial doses. “The administration recently announced a plan to prepare for additional Covid-19 vaccine doses, or ‘boosters,’ this fall, and a key part of that plan is FDA completing an independent evaluation and determination of the safety and effectiveness of these additional vaccine doses,” said the agency in a statement.
Pending FDA approval, booster doses might begin rolling out to eligible Americans as early as this month, said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on a call yesterday that was hosted by the U.S. Health and Human Services Covid-19 Community Corps.
It’s important for individuals to adhere to the FDA’s recommended timing of a third shot, said Dr. Patel. Just as with any other three-shot vaccine series, the intervals between shots will be gauged to give people robust immunity for a longer period of time.
“That’s actually consistent with what we do with other vaccines. Think of the timing of any pediatric vaccine or the human papillomavirus vaccine,” said Dr. Patel. “What I tell patients is that there’s actually a downside from getting a booster too early. They could be potentially harming themselves six to 12 months down the line. I mean, Covid is not going away.”
While Dr. Patel thinks “it’s inevitable” that everyone will eventually need another shot, “there’s unfortunately a perception that in order to go on a trip and avoid getting sick or avoid potential additional costs, people think that a booster is going to be what they need to do to stay protected. I think a lot of people are just thinking, ‘Well, if two is better than one and three is better than two, at some point, I’ll get four.’ And that’s a very dangerous assumption.”
In other words, instead of rushing to get a third shot before a planned trip, it makes more sense to stick to the optimal timing for a booster shot, then plan future trips accordingly.
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I watch trends in travel. Prior to working at Forbes, I was a longtime freelancer who contributed hundreds of articles to Conde Nast Traveler, CNN Travel, Travel + Leisure, Afar, Reader’s Digest, TripSavvy, Parade, NBCNews.com and scores of other outlets. Follow me on Instagram (@suzannekelleher) and Flipboard (@SRKelleher).
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