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Many public health officials and infectious disease experts want everyone who travels domestically on planes and trains to be vaccinated. But President Biden's sweeping mandate stopped short of requiring vaccinations for travel. NPR's David Schaper reports.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: As he boards a plane at Chicago's O'Hare Airport with fellow passengers lining up and crowding around, Kurt Ebenhoch admits to being a little anxious.
KURT EBENHOCH: Well, it's frustrating, and it's nerve-wracking.
SCHAPER: Nerve-wracking because he doesn't know who among those surrounding him are fully vaccinated and who are not. And Ebenhoch, who heads a consumer group, Travel Fairness Now, knows a lot of other would-be travelers are staying home because they're just not yet comfortable standing in long airport lines and squeezing into packed planes with the unvaccinated.
EBENHOCH: We have to look at what it's going to take to get people feeling confident that they have reliable health standards no matter where they fly, no matter what airline they fly with.
SCHAPER: The U.S. is becoming something of an outlier. Vaccines are already required for air and train travel in Canada and also between many countries in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. And while Americans traveling most places abroad must be vaccinated, that is not a requirement for domestic flights. But Democratic Congressman Don Beyer of Virginia wants to change that.
DON BEYER: The Safe Travel Act simply says that when people want to travel by airplane or Amtrak, they either have to be vaccinated or they have to get tested 72 hours ahead of time.
SCHAPER: Beyer introduced his legislation because he thinks President Biden's vaccine mandate just doesn't go far enough.
BEYER: What the president has done with the large employers - 100 plus - doesn't touch the travelers themselves. You could still get an anti-vax traveler who's - with a high virus load who could get on an airplane or a train and spread it to everyone else.
SCHAPER: Many public health and infectious disease experts have been calling for a travel vaccine mandate for months. And that includes Dr. Anthony Fauci on The Skimm's latest "Skim This" podcast.
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ANTHONY FAUCI: I would...
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FAUCI: ...Support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people that you should be vaccinated.
SCHAPER: Fauci says while the administration is not extending its vaccine mandate to travel just yet, it is under consideration. Airlines themselves could require passengers to be vaccinated, but Brett Snyder, who writes the Cranky Flyer airline industry blog, says that could backfire.
BRETT SNYDER: If you're an airline, if every airline goes along with it, then that's one thing. But if they don't, then you're handing a fairly large portion of customers to one of your rivals.
SCHAPER: The airline industry hasn't actually come out against a government-imposed vaccine mandate, but the U.S. Travel Association, which represents a broader coalition of travel-dependent businesses, has. U.S. Travel President Roger Dow.
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ROGER DOW: As far as the vaccine mandate, one, it's extraordinarily difficult to actually put in place.
SCHAPER: Implementation of the mandate and just who would enforce it and how also concerns Harvard's Leonard Marcus, who consults with the White House coronavirus task force.
LEONARD MARCUS: In order to get to the point where we can require vaccinations, we need to have a system in place that provide people a reliable, valid way of verifying that they've been vaccinated. And we don't have that yet.
SCHAPER: Paper vaccine cards can easily be forged, and many of the so-called vaccine passport apps also present issues. But Marcus says the vaccine mandate for workplaces is a big first step and requiring vaccines for travel could be next.
MARCUS: I think we're, right now, at a turning point in this country. I think there's a lot of impatience with the fact that this is lasting so long.
SCHAPER: And if such an order doesn't come from the White House soon, Congressman Don Beyer and others hope Congress will take up his bill next month and vote to require vaccines for domestic travel.
David Schaper, NPR News.
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