November border reopening leaves uncertainties for some, optimism for others

A plane lands in Boston
A plane landed in Boston, Massachusetts on Aug. 27, 2021. Photo by Mild Laohapoonrungsee/BU News Service.

By Xinran Wang
Boston University News Service

BOSTON – Following an announcement earlier this month, the United States will permit entry to fully-vaccinated foreign travelers starting this November – paving the way for everything smoother from international trade to family reunions, after nearly two years of travel restrictions.

Following an 18-month ban, exempted individuals include those from China, Iran, European Schengen countries, United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa and India who are not U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, students or exchange visitors.

Travelers must provide proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test from the previous three days and also share their contact information with the airlines they travel with.

“The CDC considers someone fully vaccinated with any FDA-authorized or approved vaccines and any vaccines that (the World Health Organization) has authorized,” spokesperson Kristen Nordlund told Reuters.

The AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Sinovac-CoronaVac vaccines are international vaccines approved by the World Health Organization, and the Moderna, Comirnaty, Janssen vaccines are authorized by the FDA.

Unapproved vaccines — Sputnik V and EpiVacCorona from Russia, COVAXIN from India, CanSino and ZIFIVAX from China, Soberana 02 and Abdala from Cuba and QazCovid from Kazakhstan — are also distributed worldwide.

“Requiring foreign nationals traveling to the United States (to) be fully vaccinated is based on public health,” Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, told reporters at a press briefing. “This is based on individuals rather than a country-based approach.”

“The vaccine mandates are complicated because they raise scientific questions, regulatory questions, and equity questions,” said Alicia Ely Yamin, a global health professor at Harvard University. 

Factors like the unknown efficacy of different vaccines and limited access to specific vaccines influence institutions’ decisions on which vaccines to accept. These decisions can create inequities, Yamin said.

“My hope is that there will be greater harmonization,” said Yamin.

Sissi Tao, a Boston University senior studying international relations, said she thinks now is a good time for the world to reopen because many people have been vaccinated.

According to Our World in Data, 44.7% of people worldwide have received one or more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“There is a hope that my parents can join me for my graduation ceremony,” Tao said, whose parents reside in China.

It is still hard to travel internationally due to limited flights and other restrictions, according to Tao.

“Opening up the border at this time serves as a signal that the U.S. is ready to go back to the normal world,” Tao said.

Tao hopes other countries would follow so that global travel can truly resume.

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