This was the resounding message from eight leading medical lights in today's COVID-19 Global Science Summit, sponsored by the World Travel & Tourism Council, Carnival Corp. & plc, US Travel Association and Hilton.
Focus on the science, not travel or cruising
The focus was on the science of COVID, not travel or cruising, noted Arnold Donald, president and CEO, Carnival Corp., who hoped the three-hour briefing would leave listeners better informed, with greater confidence in how they should personally manage their lives based on the current science.
Thousands from around the world registered for the summit, according to Gloria Guevara, president and CEO, WTTC.
'We're encouraging everyone to get vaccinated because it's a game-changer,' said Michael Diamond, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at Washington University, in a message that was repeated by everyone throughout the summit.
Other key messages
Other messages: Wear masks, social distance, no big gatherings — even for vaccinated people. Testing is still important.
The panel included infectious disease experts, epidemiologists, pathologists and public health experts from Mayo Clinic, Washington University, Cleveland Clinic, Stanford, Johns Hopkins and Catholic University of Rome, among others.
Any of the vaccines is 'greatly effective' at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death, while the odds of serious side effects are extremely low, the experts said.
People are far more likely to get thrombosis as a consequence of coronavirus than from the AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccines, according to Stefano Vella, MD, adjunct professor of global health at the Catholic University of Rome and a member of the European Commission's Horizon Europe - Health Cluster.
People getting vaccinated will help reduce the risk of more dangerous variants developing, the experts said. And people who've had COVID get a 'remarkable boost' from the shots while symptoms of long COVID are often reduced.
Getting younger people inoculated as soon as that's safe will be important to protecting them and stemming transmission and the rise of variants.
Viral loads in kids are just as high as in adults, and children can transmit the disease but so far transmissions in schools are low due to masks and distancing, noted Steven Gordon, MD, chairman, Department of Infectious Disease, Cleveland Clinic.
Young people are at less risk of dying but can suffer from long COVID, the experts cautioned. 'This is not a trivial disease, even for young people,' one said.
'Not a get out of jail free card'
Vaccination is 'not a get out of jail free card,' though, cautioned Jewel Mullen, MD, MPH, associate dean for health equity, University of Texas at Austin, Dell Medical School. It does give more freedom and makes it possible to get together with others in small groups and with one other household without wearing masks, provided nobody is at high risk.
But 'not going to the coliseum,' as Mullen put it.
Even vaccinated people still need to wear masks to protect others. Since COVID-19 vaccines are protective, but not sterilizing, people may still carry the virus without having symptoms, explained William Morice II, MD, PhD, chair, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic.
'Masks, for sure, need to be universal,' said Michael Lin, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurobiology, bioengineering and chemical and systems biology at Stanford University.
The experts said distancing and hand hygiene remain important, too.
As for obsessive sanitization of surfaces and objects, not necessary. Cleaning daily with soap and water will suffice, Gordon said.
Businesses testing workers regularly is a good idea, according to Lin, and tests are getting better and faster. Temperature checks are 'not very effective'; they may catch some people, but most who spread the disease are asymptomatic.
As far as travel goes, Lin said most international airlines require a PCR test taken within the prior 72 hours. He thinks requiring an antigen test on arrival might be a good practice, too.
Vaccination passports would be helpful, but the experts felt this would be challenging to execute in a country like the United States, with no centralized healthcare system or national database. However, private companies will likely step up and the concept may work in countries with nationalized medicine.
'Personally, I think it's great,' Lin said. 'If we could prove we're vaccinated and thereby have access to a restaurant or to a concert or to a ship, that would be great. I wouldn't mind it at all, but opinions differ on this matter, especially in the United States.'
'We're part of a global community,' Mullen reminded. There are countries where not even 1% of the population has been vaccinated. Discussions about travel should include concern for people in the places visited, she said.
A replay of the session will be available in coming days at www.covidsciencesummit.com.