The Trump administration will rescind its ban on US travel by citizens of 32 countries with more than 90 percent of the population not currently vaccinated, in a move that could significantly reduce the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in a statement on Friday.
Currently, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) bans certain individuals – including government workers and their family members – from entering the US due to travel risk. Individuals who have been exposed to a contagious disease, such as measles, are forbidden from returning to the US, and there are exemptions for medical reasons.
However, the ban on travel by citizens of 37 “non-banned countries” – a handful of developing nations outside the main suspects for vaccine-preventable diseases, such as Nigeria and Nigeria, along with six others – will be lifted beginning in September 2020. A decision was made by CDC director Dr Brenda Fitzgerald in consultation with the State Department, Homeland Security and HHS. There is no catch. The move does not extend vaccinations to US citizens and citizens of the childre that are adults under 18, nor does it ban travel for US government workers or family members.
These countries did not make the list of CDC’s 39 new birth-control countries for 2018.
“Each of these 33 countries is affected by high rates of vaccine-preventable diseases, and some countries are critical sources of supplies for vaccines available in the United States,” said Dr Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC. “Since the CDC expanded its vaccine coverage threshold last year, the rate of immunization has jumped by nearly nine percentage points.
“By taking this action, the Trump administration and Homeland Security are continuing that progress – and this action will have a powerful ripple effect by helping our partners in the developing world,” he said.
Under the previous Obama administration, the CDC published a list of vaccination rates required to enter the US. Those included: Mexico, Canada, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, China, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Jordan, Malaysia, Iran, Bosnia, Moldova, Peru, Cameroon, Guatemala, Hungary, Nigeria, Kuwait, Iran, Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Tunisia, Uruguay, Venezuela, Colombia, Israel, Egypt, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Tunisia, and Israel. That list was published in February 2016 and it specifically excludes the nations of Nigeria, Egypt, and Libya.
To help the CDC better qualify countries for inclusion on its list of new birth-control countries for 2018, the new list was based on rates of infants under five years old who were not vaccinated for polio and measles, and surveillance data for whooping cough as of 25 August 2018.
However, despite the perceived public health benefit of this move, three key analysts – Amy Rowland, Cecilia Ngoa, and Ruby Wahoma-Doman – who previously evaluated US travel bans through metrics on vaccinations for their service at Brookings, argue that the move is a setback in the US’s pursuit of universal vaccination coverage by engaging in multilateral agreements that allow for travel sanctions against countries where vaccine rates are low.
For instance, Congress loosened travel restrictions on Myanmar following reporting of a dramatic measles vaccination campaign, raising questions about the effectiveness of health diplomacy.
The Trump administration is adamant about strengthening the US-Vaccine Coalition, which has the firm goal of boosting vaccination rates in poor and unvaccinated countries by up to 10 percentage points over five years. Dr Ron Klain, who heads the group and is a former White House chief of staff for Barack Obama, said: “This decision will accelerate progress and the United States will have the capacity to go after countries where vaccination rates are too low.”
The CDC and the Department of Homeland Security have not publicly specified which countries are on the list of those “not fully vaccinated” citizens. However, a spokesperson for the secretary of State indicated in an email to the Guardian that “all would be considered ‘non-banned’ starting Sept. 1, 2020”.
Vaccination groups had little doubt that most of the 32 “non-banned” countries were for the most part populated with the full vaccination percentages cited by the CDC.
“Most of these countries are not among the 37 ‘banned’ countries that the CDC has added to its list,” said Rachel Hatzipetra, director of global science for the Vaccine Education Center, which advocates for vaccination in developing countries. “We should be very excited by this move.”