The United States has not instituted a vaccine mandate for airline flights since the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines in late 2020. But now that the Omicron variant is here and flights are being cancelled by the hundreds, the nation’s leading infectious disease specialist said that it may be time.
According to the Associated Press, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a TV interview this week that the U.S. should give consideration to such a move.
“When you make vaccination a requirement, that’s another incentive to get more people vaccinated,” Fauci said this week in an interview on MSNBC. “If you want to do that with domestic flights, I think that’s something that seriously should be considered.”
A mandate would likely encourage some individuals to get the vaccine while also making flights themselves safer. The United States does require most foreign nationals flying into the country to have full vaccination. The Center for Disease Control recommends, but does not require, travelers to take a COVID-19 test one to three days before a trip.
Fauci, who is also the White House’s chief science adviser for the pandemic response, does not have the power to make such a decision himself. The Biden administration has not expressed support for such a mandate. Officials told the AP that such a mandate “could trigger a host of logistical and legal concerns.”
Fauci said in a later interview with CNN that “I don't think people should expect that we're going to have a requirement in domestic flights for people to be vaccinated.”
This represents a vocal public disagreement between Fauci and the Biden administration, although it’s not nearly as bitter or personal a dispute as the ones that frequently took place while Fauci was serving under former President Donald Trump. On one occasion, Trump shared a tweet calling for Fauci’s firing.
CNN examined the logistical hurdles preventing a vaccination requirement for domestic air travel. Epidemiologist Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, recommended such a mandate be brought into place.
“The only way to protect our industries, our work and our economy is to mandate vaccines on airplanes and schools, etc.,” Mokdad said. He went on to praise the federal government for doing the right thing, despite often doing it too late.
“And if you don't want to get vaccinated, if you don't want the government to force you to get vaccinated, get a negative test 24 hours before you get onto the plane. I mean, do it exactly like we are doing for international travels” Mokdad said.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.