As more and more people get vaccinated against the COVID 19 virus, particularly in the United States and the U.K. (the major source markets for Caribbean tourism), regional leaders must begin a serious discussion on how this will impact travel protocols.
It is more than fair to say that persons who have taken the vaccine may have a very legitimate expectation that they will not have to endure the torturous travel requirements many places, including the Caribbean, now have in place.
As of this week the CDC had reported that around 97 million doses of the vaccine have been delivered and close to 80 million doses have been administered in the US. Data indicates that since the start of the process, hospitalization and death counts have started falling. While many media and government officials are continuing to ring a cautionary bell, the fact is that the vaccine is doing what it was designed to do.
The same is happening in the UK, where according to the Independent, that region recorded its lowest daily infection rate in over five months. NHS figures also reveal that hospital admissions are at their lowest levels since October.
In fact, as more and more people get vaccinated it is serving to dispel many of the unfounded rumors about the safety of getting the vaccine.
According to the AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges), vaccines were found to be exceedingly safe with headache, fatigue and arm pain being the most common side effects. The report knocked the argument that vaccines do not reduce transmission as being inaccurate. In Israel, for instance, where more than 90% of those over-60 have been vaccinated, cases have plummeted, not just hospitalizations, but overall cases including asymptomatic infection.
The study also warned against the fear-mongering that the vaccines will not work against the variants that have occurred. The fact is that emerging data from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, as well as Novavax and AstraZeneca suggest that all the vaccines are still highly protective against both the original virus and the emerging variants.
With the US targeting close to full vaccination by May and the UK most likely around the same time, what does this mean for Caribbean territories, particularly those dependent on tourism?
Well, what it means is that there is tremendous opportunity for proactive leaders to take a major step forward in rescuing economies and societies ravaged from the enforced lockdown brought about by COVID. It means individual leaders have an opportunity to show their mettle. The lives and livelihoods of those who elected them into office depend on it.
The fact is that world is moving on, the world has gone past curfews, panicked closures and extended quarantines; the world has gone past prevention alone and is now looking at protection and reopening.
Some Caribbean leaders have been proactive and have taken major steps in obtaining vaccines for their populations — and now they need to take the next step.
As the US and the UK get closer to their targets of full vaccination, it means that people who have been prisoners of this COVID war will want to experience freedom once more.
According to Forbes.com, “Once vaccinated, people who have holed up at home since the spring will be tempted to flee the coop and catch the next flight to their dream destination.”
Forbes adds that although some policies are here to stay, others will have to accommodate the realities of mass vaccination.
Have Caribbean leaders and health officials started to look at these very critical issues?
It can no longer be ‘par for the course’ even with PCR tests, because the fact is that those who receive a vaccine might test positive for COVID 19 specific antibodies despite being protected from the sickness, so unless these issues are taken into account travel will be difficult and self-defeating.
Now, it does not mean that we should just drop all our restrictions… that too will be crazy. However, with the global environment changing rapidly we can either keep pace with the first world, or hunker down and hide in the third world, the choice is ours.
New York, for instance, one of the first US states to implement travel restrictions, this week lifted quarantine and COVID-19 testing restrictions on people who have been vaccinated within 90 days of their second inoculation.
While this applies to domestic travelers in the first instance, it’s an example of the proactive thinking needed in the Caribbean at this time.
In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) itself — on its website under ‘vaccine clinical observations’ – says fully vaccinated people do not need to quarantine after possible or confirmed exposure to COVID-19 if three criteria are met: It’s been at least two weeks since your final vaccine dose; It’s been within three months or 90 days of your final dose; and you are showing no symptoms.
Only if these criteria are not met is quarantine is recommended. However, the point is that it shows that things have started moving in another direction.
Have these guidelines been taken into account and are they being worked into regional travel protocols?
Are regional leaders keeping pace with developments in the rest of the world and can they respond in a timely and appropriate manner that ensures the Caribbean and the tourism sector are not left behind?
Do our regional leaders have what it takes to seize the moment?
That is the big question.