Max Nisen

American Travel Rules Discriminate Against Europeans

America’s international travel rules still seem prejudiced against Europeans.

The US reopened its borders on Nov. 8 to vaccinated foreign nationals from Europe, ending a ban that had dragged on far too long (more than 18 months) and looked increasingly arbitrary. No similar US blockade applied to foreign arrivals from certain Caribbean countries or Argentina, despite higher case counts in the former at times and slower vaccination progress in the latter. And the US kept its restrictions in place over the summer even as Europe allowed entry to Americans. So there was a collective sigh of relief from separated families and airlines when the US finally seemed willing to let science guide its Covid-19 travel rules. International demand for Delta Air Lines Inc. flights to America jumped tenfold on the news that the US would ease up.

But this week brought some fine print on what it means to be fully vaccinated in US eyes and thus able to travel here. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it will accept “any combination” of doses from two-shot regimens that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration or listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization.

This means travelers can mix vaccines, which will be helpful for those coming from countries such as Canada and the U.K. where blending shots is more common. It also means the US will recognize Covid-19 vaccines that haven’t been approved by American authorities — including the widely used two-dose AstraZeneca Plc shot and Chinese vaccines. This will ease entry for many, especially those traveling from emerging markets where US-sanctioned vaccines from Pfizer Inc-BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson are harder to come by. But travelers who can prove they have recovered from Covid-19 and received only one dose of a two-shot program — a combination that’s widely accepted in European countries — won’t be considered fully vaccinated, Bloomberg News reported Tuesday, citing a CDC spokeswoman.

This makes little sense. Multiple studies suggest that getting one dose of a vaccine after having recovered from Covid generates an exceptionally strong immune response, one that may even be better than two vaccine doses at neutralizing variants. A second dose of even a highly effective mRNA vaccine may not add much additional protection for recovered individuals, according to a recent pre-print study from researchers at New York University. The findings make sense from a biological perspective: The initial infection primes the immune system to recognize and fight Covid, effectively acting as a robust first vaccine dose. The EU goes a step further and recognizes Covid recovery alone as qualification for the bloc’s digital health pass.

The US policy looks especially incoherent when you consider that it allows people to travel from other countries with two doses of less effective vaccines and domestically with no proof of vaccination whatsoever. French President Emmanuel Macron — who unlike President Joe Biden has required citizens and travelers alike to present a health pass to eat at restaurants, visit museums or board a domestic flight — is reportedly among those considered fully vaccinated in his home country on the basis of Covid-19 recovery and a single dose of a two-shot vaccine. Under the US system, someone like Macron would be treated as if he were a higher health risk than an unvaccinated American boarding a flight from New York to Los Angeles.

It’s a pandemic double standard that’s tough to defend.