Fauci says US should ‘seriously consider’ vaccine mandate for domestic flights

Comments come as death toll passes 816,000 and Omicron strain spreads

Andrew Buncombe
Monday 27 December 2021 19:19
Dr Anthony Fauci says US should 'seriously consider' vaccine mandate for domestic flights
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President Joe Biden’s chief Covid-19 advisor says the United States should “seriously consider” imposing a vaccine mandate for domestic travel.

In perhaps his strongest words yet on the subject, Dr Anthony Fauci, considered one of the nation’s leading experts on infectious diseases, said it would be “reasonable to consider” a requirement to take a flight within the US.

“When you make vaccination a requirement, that’s another incentive to get more people vaccinated,” Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at the National Institutes of Health, told MSNBC.

“If you want to do that with domestic flights, I think that’s something that seriously should be considered.”

The comments from Mr Fauci came as US airlines cancelled as many as 2,800 flights over the weekend as a result of bad weather and staffing shortages caused by a new wave infections. These are mostly the result of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus. At least 800 were axed on Monday, the fourth successive day of cancellations.

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Meanwhile, the death toll in the US has passed at least 816,000, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University.

Although US citizens have access to three vaccines approved by the authorities, only 62 per cent of those eligible are fully vaccinated. Around 70 per cent has one shot.

Since November, the US has — with a few exceptions — required foreign national air travelers to the country to be fully vaccinated and to provide proof of vaccination status prior to boarding a plane. Many other countries have imposed similar rules.

On Monday, Mr Biden claimed he would help address a shortage of Covid tests as the new, more easily spread strain spread across the country and threatened to overwhelm hospitals and stifle travel.

He said the administration's steps included use of the Defence Production Act to increase production of at-home tests and making it easier to use Google to find a nearby testing location.

“Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do,” he said, joining a call with the administration's Covid-19 response team and a group of state governors.

“It's clearly not enough. If we'd known, we would've gone harder and quicker if we could have.”

Mr Biden declined to say whether he endorsed a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel, another step administration officials have discussed in recent days.

Dr Fauci said the mandate for domestic air travel was to be seen in the same way that colleges or employers set being vaccinated as a requirement.

“The group we're really concerned about is the unvaccinated people because even if this virus is inherently less severe, just the volume of the number of cases that we're going to have could actually put a stress on the hospital system,” he said.

Speaking on CNN, Mr Fauci urged people to avoid large New Year's gatherings to reduce the Omicron-driven spike.

While officials have said people can safely gather with families if they are vaccinated, larger celebrations were riskier, he said.

“When we are talking about a New Year's Eve party ... I would recommend strongly stay away from that this year,” he said. “There will be other years to do that, but not this year.”

Additional reporting by Reuters

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