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Assist America's Response to Our Members' Questions

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Colin Quinn, Operations Manager

Will the vaccine be mandatory to travel?
Currently, COVID-19 vaccines are not required to travel. Many countries and airlines, however, require a negative COVID-19 test taken 48 to 72 hours prior to entry or boarding to specific destinations. Many more countries require a mandatory quarantine period upon entry. Despite these ever-changing requirements, Assist America has been proudly assisting scores of both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers since the COVID-19 pandemic’s global onset throughout all regions of the world. Assist America’s 24/7 Operations Center is standing by to help you navigate travel or entry requirements with our Pre-Trip Information service before you travel, and you can access our dedicated COVID-19 webpage by visiting our website or by using the Assist America Mobile Application.
 
As more have become vaccinated, the travel industry has been throwing support behind ‘health passes’ or ‘vaccine passports.’ While it is not clear if these will be accepted broadly around the world, Denmark and Israel have already begun trialing domestic passports that allow vaccinated individuals more freedom than their non-vaccinated counterparts. Regardless of your vaccination status, expect to encounter robust screening efforts when boarding airplanes, trains, and entering public spaces or large gatherings. There are plenty of reasons to be confident when you are ready to travel again, however - Assist America members can take comfort in our Stranded Traveler Assistance: If you are stranded while traveling due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, our experienced travel assistance coordinators will help you make travel arrangements to return home, when legally permissible. The Assist America Operations Center is staffed by trained, multilingual assistance personnel who can also locate testing facilities near the member’s location, if needed.
 
Does Assist America’s travel assistance program cover quarantine cost?
The Assist America team is frequently fielding inquiries regarding quarantine requirements upon entry or quarantine upon contact with a positive individual while traveling – unfortunately these requirements are changing on a daily basis, but we’re here to keep you up to date. Some countries – including many tourist destinations - are now requiring travelers to produce proof of emergency travel assistance. Fortunately for you, Assist America has you covered – We’re able to quickly provide you with a Letter of Coverage confirming you have global travel emergency assistance coverage, providing you with an array of fully paid services listed below with no financial caps or limits to include medical consultations and referrals, medical evacuation, and medical repatriation.
 
Assist America is not your insurance, though. Many other countries are requiring travelers to also produce proof of medical insurance, to include minimum health coverage specific to COVID-19, and minimum coverage accommodation expenses for quarantine or trip interruption. While Assist America will be glad to assist you with helping to determine what coverage you have from your health insurance, we do not pay for medical bills or quarantine costs.
 
If I am required to quarantine while traveling, will I need a negative test to return home?
Generally speaking, you can expect to either arrive with a negative test result or 14-day mandatory self-quarantine. While some countries do enforce strict negative test requirements, there are many caveats to consider. If you were traveling in a specific country or region, you may encounter more stringent entry requirements than if you were traveling to a region where COVID-19 transmission rates are lower. If you are a citizen or resident, you may have less restrictions upon entry than a non-citizen. Because these requirements are frequently changing, even more so with additional restrictions enacted to contain new COVID-19 variants, please remember Assist America’s trained, multilingual assistance personnel are standing by to help you prepare for your trip.
 
Since the survival rate of COVID is now 99.78%, when can cruising begin again?
Cruise ships haven’t sailed since March 2020 – and I think we’re all ready for a get-away. But don’t expect that get-away to be on a cruise ship anytime soon. While the cruise industry has been exploring vaccine-mandatory departures, the United States’ Center for Disease Control made headlines by extending the no-sail order until November 2021. There is good news though – the CDC hopes this order will be adjusted as vaccine distribution grows, using a phased approach designed to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19. Expect to see safeguards include strict testing requirements for crew members and even simulated cruises to make sure cruise lines can manage COVID-19 risk. If cruise lines successfully get through those steps, they can apply to sail with passengers, but the requirements don’t stop there. Be expected to be tested for COVID-19 on both the day you arrive and the day you depart the ship. I would anticipate cruise port-calls will be far more limited also.


Dr. Eugene Delaune & Dr. James Evans, Assist America Medical Directors

Once you have COVID, how long will the antibodies show up in a test?
If the question is: "Once you have COVID how long does it take before the antibodies show up at a test?", then the answer would be probably about 2 to 3 weeks. 
 
These antibody tests look for certain proteins in your blood that show up after you have an infection and so if you have antibodies to COVID-19, that means that your immune system identified the COVID-19, or you may have been vaccinated against COVID-19, and created antibodies to fight off the virus in the future.  It is generally thought that it can take up to 2 to 3 weeks to develop enough antibodies to be detected on a standard antibody test. This is important, as being tested too early after a suspected infection could lead to a false negative antibody test - that is, you may have been infected, but the antibodies didn't show up yet, so they are not detectable.
 
There are other complicating issues. First there are different types of antibodies. The most common one is IgG [neutralizing antibodies], which is the most prevalent in your blood, is very important in multiple pathways of fighting infection, and the most studied in COVID-19.  Also, the interpretation of the test itself is important.  It's possible that you may have come in contact with the virus and have a positive test result even if you’ve never had any symptoms. If you have a negative antibody test after a number of weeks, that means that you do not have any antibodies in your blood and so it is unlikely that you were infected with the COVID-19 virus.
 
If the question is: "Once you have COVID how long will the antibodies persist in your body?" then the answer is at least many months, if not longer, for most people.
 
There’s been some recent studies that show that the IgG antibodies in your blood in people who have been infected with COVID have been persisting in the patient system/blood for up to many months. Some peer-reviewed studies suggest at least four months. It is likely longer however they have not had the data to look at a longer-term timeframe. These antibodies did not decline over the timeframe studied in these studies. Dr. Fauci and our government health entities such as the NIH have stated 4-6 months.  And so, there is hope that the antibody responses to the COVID-19 virus will persist i.e. you will remain capable of having a robust immune system response/fight off the disease again after having been exposed to COIVID-19. We do not know how much protection these antibodies might provide against getting infected again - there have been confirmed and suspected cases of re-infection, although the current thought is that these cases are very infrequent. It is still an open question as being studied. Also, everyone's immune system is a little different, and how long immunity may last is likely to be different for each person.
 
Most importantly, whether or not you have antibodies on a test for COVID-19, it is important to remain vigilant and take steps to protect yourself and other people.
 
Once you are fully vaccinated, how long is it effective?
What we do know is that the COVID-19 vaccines that are out already and the ones that are in the pipeline ARE effective at preventing COVID-19 disease, especially more severe cases. Also, keep in mind there are virus variants now.  The CDC and other investigators are still trying to understand how effective the vaccines will be against the new variants of the COVID-19 virus that are being identified. Early data show that the current vaccines may work against some of the variants, but could be less effective against other variants.
 
As far as how long vaccine induced immunity to COVID-19 may last, it is unclear at this point. Studies that have been done pointed to at least many months and hopefully years of immunity. There are other facets of your immune system beyond the humoral [antibody-mediated, vaccine-induced] that may help provide longer-term immunity but this is also being studied.
 
Another good question would be: Is this likely to be similar to the flu shot and that we will need to get it every year because of underlying mutations in the virus?  Again, this is also something that is being studied currently, and the scientific community is unsure whether or not booster doses such as these will be required to maintain immunity.
 
The bottom line is this is a question that is being studied vigorously. Our current knowledge base suggests that immunity from the current vaccines would last at least many months, if not longer. Check back frequently with the CDC and other authoritative entities for updates moving forward.
 
When will children be eligible for the vaccine?
Most of the answer to this question depends on the actual vaccine being utilized. The FDA would need to approve each vaccine for use in each age group. The Pfizer vaccine has been cleared for children starting at the age of 16.  Both the Pfizer and Moderna companies have completed signing up patients for the study of children 12 and older.  These clinical trials have not been completed. Vaccines cannot be used until the FDA and CDC accept and evaluate reasonable data from clinical trials, to make sure that the vaccines are safe and effective. Pediatric physiology is distinct from that of adults and we cannot just assume that the vaccines would work equivalently for them.  Hopefully they should have some data to present to the FDA over the next many months to seek approval for pediatric age groups, and that vaccinations for older children could be authorized by summertime.  However, this could take longer, depending on study results, FDA protocols being met, etc.  There could also be supply issues, if only 1 or a couple vaccines are approved for use in children.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is recommending that teens and adults get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available approved for them.