The President’s incompletely known virus situation this weekend drove the media to explain “viral load.” This provides travelers excellent information for predicting when they might be unshackled.
Viral load is the “amount of virus in the blood.” As a critique of the President’s irresponsible behavior, and as an indicator for travelers, we need to understand it.
The people at the President’s rallies, those working around him in the White House or the security service personnel around him as he moves about are all vulnerable to him as a transmitter of Covid19.
Whether they get sick, depends upon the “viral load.” Younger people and fitter people we know can take a higher load before getting sick. There are hundreds of other factors, many which we’re slowly learning about. But one thing is certain, the higher the viral load, the more likely you’ll get sick.
Not everyone carrying the virus gets sick or even symptomatic. Let’s say such a person coughs in the same room as you.
That person’s aerosols carry virus, but more or less depending upon that person’s viral load. You ingest that virus depending upon the wind in the room, whether or not you’re wearing a mask, and how close you were. You will only ingest part of what the infected person’s emits. So you’ll ingest less of a viral load than that person expels.
If that person is vaccinated, their viral load will be even lower. The better the vaccine, the lower the load. If you’re vaccinated, the load gets even lower and with a good vaccine and with both the emitter and ingester vaccinated, it’s unlikely you’ll get sick.
That’s why so much concern was raised with the President leaving his hospital quarters at Walter Reed, riding in the relatively small area of an automobile with security service personnel. There is yet no vaccine, so the risk to those persons near the president is very high.
What happens if a traveler gets vaccinated?
First, it depends upon how good that vaccine is: its “efficacy.” Then it equally depends upon how well the staff in hotels and lodges and transport vehicles are vaccinated. If they aren’t at all, and if the traveler’s vaccination is less than 100% efficacious, there remains a significant risk of getting sick.
The presumed efficacy of the vaccines currently under development is between 40-70%.
More Europeans, Canadians and many Southeast Asians are likely to be vaccinated than more Americans by a certain time. This means that vaccinated Americans traveling to those destinations are good to go, likely right around when the American gets protection from the vaccination.
That’s not true for the developing world.
WHO projects that sub-Saharan African countries won’t be fully vaccinated before 2022, “a year” after the vaccine becomes first available.
I expect it will be earlier for South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, all of which have ongoing vaccine trials that guarantee them some of the first dosages.
In equatorial and East Africa, Kenya is likely to widely distribute vaccine well before the other countries in the region. Countries like Tanzania and Burundi are likely to be last.
It’s unlikely that we’ll ever be able to achieve greater specificity before the virus is fully under control. As a result the most important marketing tool of sub-Saharan and other developing countries to restart their tourism will be to certify that staff are vaccinated.
There are ways that vaccinated travelers can still visit those unvaccinated countries and acquire a viral load defense approximating staff actually vaccinated. Wearing a mask, extraordinary hygiene and social distancing will help.
It may, indeed, be possible that even in places like Burundi and Tanzania vaccine can be acquired by tourism companies independent of their governments. In such a situation an astute traveler would then only need to maintain extra precautions like mask wearing and social distancing in airports and other public venues. It’s a reason that itineraries should avoid urban areas and get into the bush as quickly as possible.
The more we know, the better we can plan. Nothing anyone ever does in the world, pre- or post-Covid, is 100% predictable. Achieving 100% vaccine efficacy never happens. Increase your knowledge and due diligence and avoid the paranoia of isolation. We need travel to stitch up this tattered world and to refresh our own psyches.