Top infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci says air travelers should get the coronavirus vaccine to fly.
In an interview Monday with The Washington Post, Fauci said he is supportive of a mandate, but isn’t proposing it. He is President Biden’s chief medical adviser.
“It’s on the table; we haven’t decided yet,” he said. “But if the president said, ‘You know, let’s go ahead and do it,’ I would be supportive of it.”
He pointed out that Biden last week said the Transportation Security Administration would double fines for those who refuse to wear masks in airports.
“So he hasn’t taken the step of mandating vaccines,” he said.
While Biden has not yet extended mandates to air travel, the administration last week announced widespread new vaccine requirements for businesses with more than 100 workers, certain health-care facilities and federal employees.
Some airlines including United, Frontier and Hawaiian have required employees — but not passengers — to be fully vaccinated. Most cruise lines are going further, with vaccine requirements for crew and the vast majority of passengers.
Australian airline Qantas is expected to become the first carrier to mandate vaccinations for passengers after CEO Alan Joyce’s announcement last week.
“Qantas will have a policy that internationally, we will only be carrying vaccinated passengers,” Joyce said.
U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia, introduced a bill last week that would require domestic air or Amtrak travelers to provide proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.
In news briefings last week, Biden administration officials did not suggest vaccine mandates for domestic flights were imminent — but also did not rule them out.
“We are always looking at more we can do to protect and save lives,” press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday, the day after the new mandates were issued. “Obviously, he made a significant and bold announcement yesterday, so I don’t have anything to predict or preview for you, but we’ll continue to look for ways to save more lives.”
Jeff Zients, coordinator of the White House’s covid-19 response team, pointed to the workplace mandates and TSA mask fines on Friday.
“Overall, 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,” he said.
Airline executives have publicly cast doubt on the likelihood of vaccine mandates for domestic travel, though they said the requirements are typical for international flights.
United CEO Scott Kirby said on MSNBC that such a mandate in the United States would be “logistically impractical.”
“I think it would require government response and government tracking to make that practical, and make it work, and so it’s probably unlikely to happen domestically,” he said.
On “CBS This Morning,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian was similarly dubious, saying he didn’t see it happening in the country.
“You also look at the logistical dilemma — we’re carrying millions of people a week — of trying to figure out who’s been vaccinated, who’s not, who qualifies for an exemption,” he said. “It would actually bottleneck the domestic travel system.”
And American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told the New York Times interview show Sway in early August that it would be “incredibly cumbersome” to implement a vaccine rule in the United States, “even if we decided that was something we wanted to do.”
“It wouldn’t be physically possible to do without enormous delays in the airline system,” he said.
The U.S. Travel Association said Monday that it does not endorse a vaccine mandate for domestic travel, pointing to studies showing the safety of air travel when travelers wear masks.
“U.S. Travel has long maintained that there should be no mandatory vaccination requirement for domestic travel,” Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy, said in a statement. “Such a policy would have an unfair, negative impact on families with young children who are not yet eligible to get the vaccine.”
The trade group said it “strongly” encouraged anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated as “the fastest path back to normalcy for all.”
In his interview with The Washington Post, Fauci said he is, in general, “favorably disposed” to vaccine mandates given the number of eligible Americans who remain unvaccinated, which he put at 75 million. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 179 million people — 54 percent of the population — is fully vaccinated.
“We’re making headway, but not at the rate that I would like to see it,” he said. “I would like to see us enter into the fall and the winter with the overwhelming majority of those 75 million people vaccinated.”