Travel doc says vaccinated still face risks

Numerous world hot spots should be avoided

BOSTON — Dr. Liz Chen may be vaccinated against COVID-19, but the travel medicine expert at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge isn’t ready to hop on a long-haul flight any time soon.

“Still waiting a little bit more until more people are vaccinated so that, overall, it’s a safer scenario,” Chen said.

But at the moment, there are some spots even vaccinated Americans might leave off their itineraries.

“Areas or countries that have high rates per population, per capita or per 100,000 of the population, those are the riskier places,” Chen said.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently lists more than 130 such destinations under its Level 4 COVID-19 High Risk category, including nearly all of Europe and Central America, Canada and 18 islands in the Caribbean, including such popular vacation spots as Aruba, Barbados, Curacao, Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In some areas of the U.S., COVID-19 is also raging, Chen said, including parts of Michigan and Texas. The pandemic has meant cutting back on what many consider a vital component of travel: planning.

“People are planning travel a little closer to the actual time they’re going to take the trip because of all these uncertainties,” Chen said. “It might be very different next week.”

So, she advises keeping a close eye on public health reports coming out of the preferred destination city and not only watching for general COVID-19 numbers but also variant activity.

“B.1.1.7 has been shown to cause more severe disease, and when it’s highly transmissible we also worry that it’s going to be taking over in many other places that are just starting to see it arrive,” Chen said.

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Keeping in mind, too, that while the vaccines are all very effective, there is still some question as to how well they work against some of the other variants. The safest bet at this point, Chen said, a road trip.

“You can be in a car. You can be by yourself or with a family,” she said. “And you can control what you do at a rest stop where there might be crowds.”

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