The first COVID immobilized us. Now governments are. – Twin towns


One of my big concerns about the pandemic was that it would hamper the global mobility of people and labor, perhaps permanently. Unfortunately, my worst fears come true: As COVID-19 mutates, it affects not only tourism and business travel, but migration more generally.

Consider that after the end of the Vietnam War, the United States took in over a million Vietnamese migrants over a 20-year period. After the Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, the United States also took in large numbers of Afghan refugees and, like the Vietnamese migrants, the results were very positive.

Fast forward to today: The United States is not at all on track to welcome large numbers of Afghan refugees. The political climate on immigration has become much more negative, but there is also what I call “the COVID talking point”. If a refugee resettlement critic wants to freeze a risk-averse but otherwise sympathetic bureaucracy, all he has to do is ask a simple question: “But how many of them are vaccinated?”

I am also struck by the recent decisions of Croatia and Austria to impose “expiration dates” on the vaccinations of visiting tourists. Until this decision, it was enough to be vaccinated to visit either country, although there were other possible restrictions. Now, if 270 days have passed since your last dose of vaccine, your immunized status will no longer allow you to enter the country.

It is all the more disheartening as Croatia was one of the countries most open to visitors. It also announces a broader policy of ever-changing standards and uncertainty regarding travel restrictions. It has become increasingly difficult to organize a group trip to Croatia for the spring of 2022 because who knows what the entry standards will look like by then.

In the United States, the administration of President Joe Biden now offers third booster shots for people already vaccinated. This might be a good idea, but it also creates additional uncertainty for travel and migration – and for social interactions in general. If three doses are that big, should people be allowed to travel (or for that matter interact inside) with just two doses? The bar is once again raised.

Of course, the problems don’t end with the third dose. If the effectiveness of the second dose decreases significantly in less than a year, could the same thing happen with the third dose? How long before four doses are needed, or maybe five? Or what if another major variant of COVID-19 shows up, and only some people get a booster against that strain? What then counts as being “sufficiently vaccinated”?

Many Americans seem eager to receive their third dose, but by the nature of the count, that number is lower than the number willing to receive two doses. Plus, many people might just tire of the stress of dealing with a continuous flow of mandatory reminders and stop at one or two.

The sad fact is that the “two-dose standard” may not last very long, whether overseas or at home (the same is true of the even lower-dose standard with Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca). Vaccine mandates will become more difficult to define and enforce, be less transparent, and likely to be less popular.

If you tell people that three doses are necessary for safety, but two doses are enough to get you into a concert or a government building, how are they supposed to unravel the mixed messages? It is not clear that enough people will receive the third dose in a timely manner to make it a viable standard for vaccine passports.

Add to that the problems with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which the government originally urged for. Now, these people don’t have a comparable chance of getting recalls – in fact, they are not yet receiving specific advice at all. Are they orphans of any new vaccination passport system, or will (supposedly dangerous?) Exceptions be made for them? Or do they just have to start all over again?

The big international winner of all of this will likely be Mexico, which has remained an open country and does not rely on vaccine passports. In general, I don’t admire Mexico’s nonchalant response to COVID-19, but the country can find itself in a relatively favorable position, especially when it comes to tourism and international business meetings.

As for the United States and Europe, the temptation to step up the required security measures is understandable. But previous vaccine standards were largely applicable. If they are made harder, they could collapse completely.

Until then: Is anyone interested in a trip to Oaxaca?

Tyler Cowen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is professor of economics at George Mason University and writes for the Marginal Revolution blog. His books include “Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero”.


Corina C. Butler

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