The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is aiming to change the language used to define if an individual is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and whether that individual’s vaccinations are considered up-to-date with respect to booster shots. How could this impact the vaccinations a traveler needs before a cruise vacation?
CDC Changing Language on Vaccination Status
Since vaccinations against COVID-19 began in late 2020, individuals have been considered fully vaccinated two weeks after completing a two-dose series of an approved vaccine, or two weeks after receiving an approved one-dose vaccine.
As new variants of the virus have emerged in the ensuing months, however, booster shots have been recommended to augment those initial vaccinations, leading to some question as to how many shots a person needs to receive to be considered fully vaccinated.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a January 21, 2022 briefing that the language used to describe vaccination will likely “pivot” to include booster shots as necessary to bring an individual “up to date” on their vaccinations.
“In public health, for all vaccines, we’ve talked about being up to date for your vaccines. Every year, you need a flu shot; you’re not up to date with your flu shot until you’ve gotten your flu shot for that year,” Walensky said.
“What we really are working to do is pivot the language to make sure that everybody is as up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines as they personally could be, should be, based on when they got their last vaccine.”
Being up-to-date on vaccinations, then, will depend on when an individual last received a COVID-19 injection. “That means if you recently got your second dose, you’re not eligible for a booster, you’re up to date. If you are eligible for a booster and you haven’t gotten it, you’re not up to date and you need to get your booster in order to be up to date,” Walensky explained.
Individuals do not become eligible for booster shots until five months after the last of their initial Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccination doses, or two months after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson’s/Janssen vaccination.
How Will This Affect Cruisers?
It is possible the language cruise lines use will also pivot to include the additional protection of booster shots.
Carnival Cruise Line’s health and safety protocols, for example, explicitly state that “Should the CDC definition of fully vaccinated evolve to require the booster shot, our policy will adapt accordingly.”
Carnival also notes that “It is also always possible that certain destinations could define a fully vaccinated guest as one who is current with a booster shot. Consequently, we also strongly encourage all guests who are eligible to get their booster vaccine at least seven days before boarding as this may become a condition for travel without prior notice.”
Similarly, Royal Caribbean International’s vaccination guidance states “We strongly recommend that fully vaccinated guests receive a booster dose when they become eligible to do so, though it is currently not required.” Because the cruise line follows CDC guidance, however, it is likely that should the CDC change the definition of fully vaccinated to include boosters, the cruise line’s policy would also be adapted.
Other cruise lines’ policies are similar, and may also be adjusted as definitions from the CDC change.
Do Any Cruise Lines Already Require Boosters?
Several cruise lines are already requiring booster shots for all passengers and crew members.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, a European cruise line partially owned by the Royal Caribbean Group, already requires booster shots for everyone eligible.
UnCruise Adventures, a small ship line specializing in unique adventure destinations, is requiring all eligible guests and crew members to have a booster shot for all embarkations on and after February 5, 2022.
Grand Circle Cruise Line, which offers a variety of river cruises around the world, will begin requiring boosters for all passengers as of April 1, 2022.
Some cruise lines operating longer sailings are requiring boosters just for those sailings at the moment. This is true of P&O Cruises as well as Cunard Line, both of which currently have transatlantic crossings underway – a 35-night sailing in the case of P&O Cruises, and a 28-night crossing of the Queen Mary 2 from Cunard Line. Both of those cruises have already set sail.
With the new shift in language from the CDC, it is entirely possible that other cruise lines, including larger lines with more extensive fleets, will begin requiring booster shots.
Passengers booked with any cruise line should stay updated with the requirements for their upcoming sailing, and be prepared for changes in vaccination requirements that could affect their embarkation eligibility.