If you are confused about whether you’ll need a COVID-19 booster vaccine to travel to Europe in the coming months, the best advice we can give you is to stay tuned.
Industry publication Travel Weekly has reported that two member countries of the EU—Austria and Croatia—have announced “expiration dates” on the validity of vaccinations for international travelers. This means that inbound travelers entering based on having been vaccinated will be required to provide documentation that they received their final dose of vaccine no more than 270 days before their visit.
Alternatively, to enter either of those countries, foreign visitors can provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival or a negative antigen test taken 48 hours prior to arrival, or evidence of having recovered from COVID-19 infection within the previous six months.
It’s unclear whether other countries will hop on the bandwagon.
These policy changes come amidst speculation that the EU may be restricting the entry of American tourists and remove the U.S. from its “safe list” because of surging infection rates that are well beyond the EU threshold. Such a decision wouldn’t necessarily be binding to individual member countries.
AUGUST 30, 2021 “SAFE” COUNTRY UPDATE
Today, the European Union removed the U.S. (along with Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro and North Macedonia) from its list of “safe” countries that can travel to member countries without special requirements such as quarantine and testing. The decision was based on the spike of COVID-19 infections in the US with the highly transmissible Delta variant. As noted above, it is up to each of the 27 countries in the EU block to decide whether they want to follow the non-binding policy recommendation.
France and The Netherlands have classified the US as a “safe” country.
According to the Associated Press, member countries will keep the option of allowing fully vaccinated U.S. travelers into member countries.
(It bears noting that the U.S. is still not allowing European tourists to enter the country, which has incensed the tourism industry and many travelers.)
What is the status of booster recommendations in the U.S.?
On August 18, 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a joint statement from the major health agencies in the Federal government concluding that COVID-19 booster shots will be needed “to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability.”
The carefully worded statement noted that while current Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines continue to be “remarkably effective in reducing [the] risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death,” that protection declines over time, especially in light of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
Scientists are citing growing evidence of diminished protection against mild and moderate disease, especially among those who are at higher risk (e.g. due to age, underlying medical conditions, etc.) and those who were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccine rollout (which began in mid-December 2020 in the U.S.) Because of early shortages of the vaccine, most Americans didn’t start receiving their vaccines until 2021.
Recommendations for the timing of booster shots for individuals who received J&J/Janssen vaccine will be based on data expected to be available in the next few weeks.
When will the administration of booster shots in the U.S. begin?
HHS noted that booster shots would likely be given in the fall, beginning the week of September 20, 2021, for those 8 months out from their second dose.
The recommendation would be subject to an independent evaluation by the FDA of the safety and effectiveness of third doses and a review of the evidence by the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which is expected around Labor Day.
In terms of the timing of eligibility, those at increased risk would be at the front of the line: individuals who were fully vaccinated earliest in the vaccination rollout, including many health care providers, nursing home and long-term care residents, and other seniors.“
We’ve heard anecdotal reports of people already getting boosters at pharmacy chains.
Could the timeline for boosters be shortened?
President Joe Biden has more recently suggested that the recommended timeline for boosters might be shortened by three months (to be administered 5 months after the second dose) at an 8/27 Oval Office meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Biden also said that he was conferring with Dr. Anthony Fauci about the timeline change.
Presumably, this change in thinking about the timing was based on new data from Israel showing that a booster dose increased protection against the Delta variant four-fold. In addition, Pfizer reported that a booster dose of its vaccine offers a threefold increase in neutralizing antibodies.
What will future booster shot requirements look like for U.S. citizens planning European travel? Will I need a booster vaccine to travel to Europe?
The only thing certain is that rules for travelers, including testing and vaccination requirements, are still in flux. Policies and practices will continue to change as infection rates fluctuate and we learn more about the virus.
And even if you are not planning to travel or don’t need a booster vaccine to travel to Europe, you’ll want to keep abreast of changing public health guidelines to protect yourself and your loved ones.
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