White House floats idea of proof of vaccination for domestic travel

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White House floats idea of proof of vaccination for domestic travel

White House press secretary Jen Psaki admitted Wednesday that the Biden administration would require proof of vaccination for domestic travel “if the health impact is overwhelming” amid the latest COVID-19 surge. 

During an appearance by Psaki on MSNBC’s “Way Too Early,” host Jonathan Lemire pointed out that Americans are about to travel “in what could be … record numbers for the holidays.”

“So why isn’t a vaccination requirement for domestic travel part of the president’s plan during this COVID surge?” Lemire asked. 

“That’s a good question, Jonathan. I think it’s one we get asked pretty frequently,” Psaki replied. 

“It’s because we know that masking can be — is very effective on airplanes. That’s a restriction that we’ve also increased the fines on so we know that people are wearing masks, more people are wearing masks,” she added.

The press secretary went on to note that putting a vaccination requirement in place might delay flights and could have “additional implications.”

The White House's move comes as cases of COVID-19 continue to skyrocket due to the new Omicron variant.
The White House’s move comes as cases of COVID-19 continue to skyrocket due to the new Omicron variant.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

“And we would do it, though, if the health impact was overwhelming,” she acknowledged. “So we rely always on the advice of our health and medical experts. That isn’t a step at this point that they have determined we need to take.” 

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Americans refrain from traveling within the US unless they are fully vaccinated. The CDC also advises travelers who are not fully vaccinated to get tested before and after their trip.

Earlier this month, President Biden announced that travelers to the US from international destinations must test negative for COVID-19 within 24 hours of their flight regardless of vaccination status or country of origin — reducing the acceptable window for a negative test from 72 hours.

The CDC has advised Americans not to travel on planes unless they are fully vaccinated.
The CDC has advised Americans not to travel on planes unless they are fully vaccinated.
EPA/ADI WEDA

Psaki’s Wednesday comments go a step further from her remarks on vaccination requirements for domestic travel in the past. 

Last month, Psaki noted that nothing was “off the table” as the administration considered the advice of health and medical experts. 

“What we saw with the Delta variant is that once it was already here, it spread rapidly across the country,” a reporter noted during a White House press briefing. “So why not have any testing or vaccination requirements whatsoever for domestic air travel since people are, you know, going fairly openly across the country?”

Press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden would instate a requirement to show proof of vaccination while traveling.
Press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden would instate a requirement to show proof of vaccination while traveling if health experts recommend it.
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

“Well, what I think you heard the president say, I think — it was hard to hear the questions, so I think this was a question that was asked, but — was that he wasn’t taking any options off the table, but he’s going to rely on the advice of his health and medical experts. So, I would really point you to them,” she said. 

And as recently as Monday, the press secretary said she didn’t “have anything new” on the matter. 

“I think we’ve said in the past that masking is something we know is effective and works,” she said. “I would expect, tomorrow, you’ll hear more from the president on what we’re going to do more about vaccines and testing accessible, and what the American people can expect over the next couple of months.” 

On Tuesday, the White House announced that the federal government will ship 500 million at-home rapid tests for COVID-19 starting next month, set up federally run testing sites in New York and other hot-spot areas and mobilize 1,000 military medical personnel to deploy to overwhelmed hospitals as needed.

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