"All 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by EMA,” she said in an interview, referring to the European Medicines Agency, the European Commission's drug regulating body. The EMA has approved all three vaccines currently used in the U.S.: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Von der Leyen did not say what date the countries will reopen, but on May 3, the European Commission, the EU’s independent executive arm, announced a proposal that could allow vaccinated U.S. tourists to visit by the end of June. French President Emmanuel Macron has announced plans to reopen France by June 9. Von der Leyen cited the U.S.'s “huge progress” toward achieving herd immunity, or immunizing 70 percent of the population to significantly stop the virus's spread; the Biden administration is aiming to reach this milestone by mid-June. As of April 24, nearly 95 million, or 28.5 percent of the total population (67.5 percent of adults 65 and older), had been fully vaccinated in the U.S.
Europe has banned visitors from the U.S. and other countries considered high-risk during the pandemic for a year, freezing the usual flow of visitors (in 2019 more than 17 million Americans traveled to Europe, continuing a steady upward trend until the pandemic hit).
Tourism officials on both sides of the Atlantic — not to mention Europe-starved American travelers — have been eager for the removal of barriers to U.S. visitors.
Some countries have already announced plans to welcome fully vaccinated Americans. As of April 26, U.S. travelers can visit Greece with proof of a negative COVID-19 test or vaccination. Iceland also has opened to vaccinated Americans, requiring only that they take a rapid test upon arrival.
Before you rush to book a European vacation for July or August, consider these things:
1. Neither the U.S. State Department nor the CDC is recommending that Americans travel to Europe. Just days ago the state department moved 80 percent, or 130, of the countries on its travel advisory to “do not travel” status, including nearly all of Europe. (Iceland is considered slightly less risky, where you should “reconsider travel.") The CDC also says “do not travel” for all of Europe.
2. Just because the European Commission president says Europe will welcome visitors doesn't mean that all, or even any, genuinely will be welcoming. In many of the more cautious countries such as Italy, vaccination rates are still low and more contagious variants are threatening spread. And admittance to some countries may not be easy. Ireland, for instance, has strict rules for visitors from the U.S. and dozens of other countries it considers to be high risk, requiring them to quarantine for two weeks.
Current CDC guidance for international travel
Americans who are fully vaccinated are not required to be tested for COVID-19 before departing for international travel, but they do need to be tested before returning to the U.S. They also do not need to quarantine when they return from international travel, but they should get tested for COVID-19 three to five days after arriving back in the U.S., and watch for symptoms. (Check the CDC's current advisories for specific countries online.)
The CDC recommends that people who are unvaccinated delay international travel.
Everyone should continue to wear masks in public and follow other infection prevention measures, such as frequent handwashing and social distancing.
3. There's still no universal vaccine passport so how anyone proves they are vaccinated remains a question. (For its own residents, the European Union is planning to issue what it's calling a Digital Green Certificate by mid-June to verify a traveler's vaccination status and allow for free movement within the EU.)
Although it's remarkably effective at preventing the worst effects of COVID-19, the vaccine does not provide 100 percent protection against infection. Those who have been vaccinated, therefore, should consider their health and risk from complications if they do get COVID-19, says Gautam Desai, interim chair of primary care and professor of family medicine at Kansas City University. “There's a small chance you can still get a variant ... of the strain that's not protected by the vaccine.”
And the pandemic is unpredictable. A sudden spike in cases within the EU could suddenly cause another shutdown, so flexibility is key. Lauren Cardinale, a New Orleans-based luxury travel advisor, suggests that before you book a trip, ask yourself, “’If you were to get stuck, or you accidentally tested positive before you return, do you have plans in place to cover your responsibilities back home?’ It's making sure you have everything in place — your worst-case scenario plan.”
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Christina Ianzito is the travel and books editor for aarp.org and AARP The Magazine, and also edits and writes health, entertainment and other stories for aarp.org. She received a 2020 Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing.