My husband and I are both fully vaccinated, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says we’re ready to travel – with a few modifications, of course.
But I am faced with a dilemma. Alaska, where we live, has been at the forefront of immunization. But until everyone we might meet on a trip has been vaccinated, I find it hard to get on a plane unless absolutely necessary. On the other hand, I realize that tourism dependent destinations are in dire need of help right now.
How can I reasonably think about the following questions: Can I travel – and should I travel – if I know there is a chance, however small, that it could endanger other people? And if I am traveling, how can I make sure that I am keeping others as safe as possible? Jackie
With the news that vaccinated Americans might be able to travel to Europe this summer, the question “We can, but should we?” is certain to be a priority. And decision fatigue is real, especially when trying to weigh the public health and ethical elements of travel.
“When the CDC came out and said it was okay to travel, it was based on careful consideration of risk levels,” said Amber D’Souza, professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health . “But the answer is not for everyone to jump on a plane; it is purely that vaccinated people can now consider flying in a way that they had not previously considered.
While private jets, hotel buyouts, and vacation rentals hold the promise of sealed, germ-free and stranger-free travel, most of us will meet other people on vacation. And many of these people will not be vaccinated: there is not a single state that has fully vaccinated the majority of its population yet., and there are many countries around the world, from Spain to India, where infection rates are on the rise.
People who have been vaccinated are unlikely to get sick with Covid-19, but there is still a small chance that they could become infected with the virus and potentially spread it to others. New data suggests that these so-called “rupture infections” are rare and that when vaccinated people are infected, they are usually asymptomatic.
The likelihood of a vaccinated person becoming infected generally depends on two things, Dr D’Souza said: “Whether you come into contact with an infected person, which is influenced by the rate of infection wherever you are, and your own personal behavior in terms of distance, masking, and the number of people you interact with. “
“The rates are currently increasing in some parts of the country,” she added, “and so when you’re vaccinated your risk is lower, but it’s not zero.”
So if a restaurant waiter, hotel worker, or plane seat neighbor was at risk or not vaccinated, what would ethics and public health experts say about your idea of travel?
Pamela Hieronymi, professor of philosophy at the University of California at Los Angeles, who studies moral responsibility and free will, said the ethical theory of “contractualism” was a good framework.
“We know that we all have to find a way to get along and that we all have to limit our activities in the light of others,” she said. “So contractualism asks, ‘What rules would we all agree if each person had a symmetrical voice? “”
Barring a pie-in-the-sky romance where large-scale injustices are corrected by a much larger entity, like a government – reserving some flights exclusively for high-risk passengers, for example – the question becomes: what can- you as an individual do it?
“Here I think we can just think of the most vulnerable person and ask: Would they have a reasonable objection to you doing what we do?” Says Dr Hieronymi.
As a person who has been vaccinated, your perspective and risk are likely to be different from the perspective and risk of an unvaccinated person. Crowded airport security lines, for example, may not worry you, but many others will feel different, especially if they aren’t vaccinated. Realizing that those around you may be vulnerable can help guide your actions.
“Try to maintain the spacing so that everyone is comfortable and the risks are reduced,” Dr D’Souza said. “Being physically close to others transmits this infection at the highest rates, so that’s what we need to be aware of: how many people we are close to, especially indoors.”
Avoiding crowds, as well as other established pandemic practices like wearing a mask indoors and staying outdoors as much as possible where the risk of infection is much lower, overlaps with ethics and public health.
“The best way for us to treat each other in these circumstances is to follow the directions we receive from people trying to solve the collective problem,” said Dr Hieronymi. “No matter what we do, we always put each other in danger, so we need a way to do it with respect, and collectively we need a way to cooperate and live together. “
Infection rates, which indicate the risk of exposure in a particular location, can be helpful in determining where to go. But the same goes for other parts of travel planning: even though infection rates are high in Florida, for example, your level of exposure will be different if you’re sitting on an empty beach than if you are. party, spring break, in crowded bars and restaurants.
“We have a wonderful vaccine that reduces risk, and it is perfectly appropriate to consider a vacation,” said Dr D’Souza. “You do not introduce high risk to yourself or to others as long as you behave.”
Sarah firshein is a Brooklyn-based writer. If you need advice on the best travel plan gone wrong, send an email to email@example.com.