Could Mandating Vaccines for Air Travelers Cost More Lives Than It Saves?
Most major airlines already require that their employees be vaccinated. Support is now mounting for a government vaccine mandate for airline passengers as well. But could this public health intervention end up costing more lives than it saves?
Last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.) introduced the U.S. Air Public Safety Act. The bill would require all passengers on flights leaving from or landing at a U.S. airport to show proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test, or proof of a previous infection before boarding.
“We know that air travel during the 2020 holiday season contributed to last winter’s devastating COVID-19 surge. We simply cannot allow that to happen again,” said Feinstein in a press release. “Ensuring that air travelers protect themselves and their destination communities from this disease is critical to prevent the next surge.”
Members of the Biden administration have also endorsed the idea.
“I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people that you should be vaccinated,” said Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, last month. White House COVID response team coordinator Jeff Zients said the administration hasn’t ruled out a vaccine mandate for air travelers, reports USA Today.
The carve-outs that Feinstein’s bill makes for those with negative COVID tests and prior infections makes it more flexible than the vaccinate mandates that governments are imposing for bars, restaurants, and concert venues. Yet the proposed law would leave in place the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) requirement that all passengers be masked throughout their flights.
The legislation would also effectively create a federal vaccine passport by requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Federal Aviation Administration, to develop a single nationwide system for verifying passengers’ vaccination status. That poses some grave civil liberties concerns. It would automatically exclude the 35 percent of the eligible population that isn’t vaccinated from all air travel. A centralized system could also easily be expanded t
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