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Fauci Favors Vaccine Mandate for Air Travelers

The White House says the idea is not “off the table,” but the travel industry is pushing back

September 14, 2021

President Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has reportedly said he favors a vaccine mandate for domestic airline passengers in the US. During a podcast interview with theSkimm, Fauci said: “I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people that you should be vaccinated.”

The interview, which was taped Friday, is set to be released Thursday. After Fauci’s comment was reported over the weekend, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director told The Washington Post on Monday that although he supports a vaccine mandate, he said isn’t proposing it.

While the White House has not yet made vaccination a requirement for domestic air travelers, administration officials have also declined to rule the possibility out. In response to questions about requiring air travelers to be vaccinated, Jeff Zients, the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response coordinator, told reporters, “I think we have a very strong track record that shows we’re pulling available levers to acquire vaccinations and we’re not taking any measures off the table.”

Last week, President Joe Biden imposed sweeping new vaccine mandates for all businesses with 100 employees or more to either require all their staff to be vaccinated or implement regular weekly COVID-19 tests.

In addition, Biden also ordered all federal workers to receive the vaccine, and has also extended the federal mask mandate on public transportation governed by Transportation Security Administration regulations. However so far the administration has stopped short of requiring all air travelers to be vaccinated as a prerequisite for flying.

Meanwhile, travel industry leaders have criticized the idea of a vaccine travel mandate. Tori Emerson Barnes, US Travel Association executive vice president of public affairs, said, “US Travel has long maintained that there should be no mandatory vaccination requirement for domestic travel.”

Some US airlines, such as United, Frontier and Hawaiian, have started requiring employees to be vaccinated, while other carriers, like Delta, Southwest and American have resisted the move. However Biden’s vaccine mandates may render the point moot for all airline employees.

On the other hand, the question of requiring passengers to be vaccinated is a more complex issue. CEOs of major airlines have warned that such a mandate could create major operational bottlenecks and cripple the demand for air travel. In an interview with MSNBC, United’s chief executive Scott Kirby said that, despite having issued a requirement for all the carrier’s US employees to be fully vaccinated, such a mandate for passengers would be “logistically impractical.”

Over at Delta, CEO Ed Bastian also raised objections, citing scientific studies that have found limited spread of COVID in the domestic air transport system. In an interview with CNN in late August, Bastian said of a passenger vaccination mandate, “It would be quite a logistical snafu for us to try to require that domestically.”

Logistics aside, the idea of a vaccine mandate for air passengers seems to be gaining support. According to a recent Gallup poll, more than six in 10 Americans (61 percent) favor the idea of requiring fliers provide proof they are fully vaccinated before travel, up from 57 percent in April.

And the large majority of travelers are on board with being vaccinated anyway. In a recent poll, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of those with a desire to travel say they are likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine or are already vaccinated.