A vaccine requirement for domestic air travel is not likely, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert. “I don’t think people should expect that we’re going to have a requirement in domestic flights for people to be vaccinated,” Fauci told CNN.
In September, Fauci said he favored a mandate, telling a podcast interview, “I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people that you should be vaccinated.” Subsequently, he clarified the statement, saying that although he supports a mandate he wasn’t proposing it.
More recently, Fauci said on MSNBC that making the COVID-19 vaccine a requirement for domestic flights should be “seriously considered.” He defended the vaccine mandate currently in place for arriving passengers into the US, saying, “If you’re making a requirement for vaccination for people to get on planes who are coming into the country, that’s understandable. You don’t want to bring more cases into the country.”
But, he added, “If you’re talking about requiring vaccination to get on a plane domestically, that is just another one of the requirements that I think is reasonable to consider.”
Fauci’s comments come as the number of COVID-19 cases is surging nationwide due to the highly contagious omicron variant. The seven-day moving average of new cases in the US topped 265,000, breaking the previous record set in January 2021.
The new strain, which was identified in South Africa in late November, quickly became the dominant variant by the middle of December. Early indications are that omicron produces less severe symptoms than the apparently more dangerous delta variant. However with both strains circulating at the same time, but is spreading at the same time as the delta variant.
Even with rising case numbers, the CDC last week issued new guidelines for isolation and quarantine of vaccinated individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19. The new guidance lowers the length of isolation for asymptomatic individuals from 10 days to five.
The new CDC rules may help ease labor shortages caused by employees who test positive and are required to stay out of work to see if symptoms develop. The news should provide some relief for airlines, which faced severe disruptions over the holiday travel period, in part due to coronavirus return-to-work restrictions.
Meanwhile, the Association of Flight Attendants are raising concerns about the recent CDC shift in policy. In a statement, Sara Nelson, the union president, said, “If any business pressures a worker to return to work before they feel better we will make clear it is an unsafe work environment, which will cause a much greater disruption than any ‘staffing shortages.’“
She continued, “We cannot allow pandemic fatigue to lead to decisions that extend the life of the pandemic or put policies on the backs of workers.”