As a substantial number of people in the U.S. continue to refuse vaccinations, experts predict that more mandates may soon come into play. With individuals returning to offices, travel, and large gatherings—whether they’re vaccinated or not—some have concerns about the limit of existing COVID mitigation measures. In many spaces, vaccinated people want the assurance of safety by knowing they’re surrounded by other vaccinated people. Air travel has been a topic of some contention when it comes to vaccine mandates, but White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, just made his feelings on the matter clear.
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During a recent interview with the Skimm This podcast, which is set to be released on Sept. 16, Fauci was asked if he would support a vaccine mandate for air travel. He did not hesitate before saying, “I would support that. If you want to get on a plane and travel with other people, then you should be vaccinated.” Fauci’s comments were released as a sneak peek of this week’s episode.
And the COVID expert is not the only official who hopes for vaccine mandates in the air, which means this mandate might not be a far-off possibility. On Sept. 9, Virginia Representative Don Beyer introduced legislation that would require either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of travel on domestic airlines or Amtrak train trips. Additionally, the legislation would require all airport and Amtrak employees to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.
Reuters reported that in August, Canada announced it would require all travelers, whether by air, train, or cruise, to be vaccinated. Similarly, many other countries have instituted vaccine mandates for travel. “Americans want a return to normal that includes traveling for business or pleasure, and Congress can help make people comfortable traveling again by putting basic requirements in place that prevent the spread of COVID,” Beyer said. He also noted that some companies, such as United Airlines, have implemented changes in this direction.
On Sept. 9, The New York Times reported that Qantas, Australia’s largest airline, would soon require that all passengers be vaccinated when the company begins worldwide travel again in December. According to The New York Times, Qantas is one of the first airlines in the world to require proof of vaccination for every person on board. Other airlines may not be far behind, though in the U.S., airlines have only implemented these mandates among employees so far.
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In early August, United Airlines gave their employees a Sept. 27 deadline to either get vaccinated or be fired or sent on unpaid leave. United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told NPR he thought this mandate was “the right thing to do.” However, Kirby noted that he didn’t feel like he had the authority to demand that passengers be vaccinated.
“I think that mandating vaccines for passengers is really a government issue. For us to do that, we would probably require some sort of government directive,” said Kirby, noting that air travel is a federally regulated industry. “And, you know, people are in terminals. They’re not just our customers. So you go through a security checkpoint, it’s to all airlines. It’s TSA employees. It’s employees at the airport. And so that’s just an environment where I don’t think it’s appropriate for us as an individual business to make that decision and really one that we would need the federal government to take the lead on.”
The Point Guys reported that both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines are also considering vaccine mandates for their employees.
As for the COVID measures currently in place, passengers are still required to wear a mask over their nose and mouth on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) also requires masks in all airports.
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