Many major airlines have already mandated that all their staff bevaccinated. There is growing support for mandating vaccinations for passengers on airlines. Could this intervention in public health end up costing more than it saves lives?
Last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.) The U.S. Air Public Safety Act was introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). This bill requires all U.S. passengers who fly to or from U.S. airports to present proof of immunization, negative COVID-19 tests, and proof that they have not been infected before being allowed on board.
We know from experience that last winter’s COVID-19 spike was caused by air travel in the 2020 holiday season. Feinstein stated in a press statement that we cannot permit this to occur again. It is vital that passengers fly to avoid this type of disease.
The idea has also been supported by members of the Biden government.
Anthony Fauci (President Joe Biden’s chief Medical Advisor) stated last month that “I support that if your plan is to travel on planes with other people, that you should get vaccinated.” White House COVID Response Team Coordinator Jeff Zients stated that the administration is open to a mandated vaccine for travelers. USA Today
Feinstein’s bill allows for exemptions for people with prior or negative COVID test results. This makes the bill more flexible than mandated vaccinations that some governments impose on bars, restaurants and concert venues. However, the Transportation Security Administration’s requirement that passengers wear masks on flights would be preserved by the new law.
In effect, the legislation creates a federal vaccine passport. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is required to collaborate with the Federal Aviation Administration on a nationwide system for verifying passenger’s vaccination status. It raises grave concerns about civil liberties. This would exclude 35 percent from eligible travel who have not been vaccinated. The centralized system can also be easily expanded to include those who are not vaccinated for other transportation modes.
Given the low level of transmission COVID aboard aircraft, it’s not obvious that such a mandate would be beneficial to public safety. This low risk was described in an article in October 2020 published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. The article notes that cabin air is recycled using HEPA filters, which remove virus particles. The way air flows within the cabin—from ceiling to floor, with little flow between rows—also reduces the odds of in-flight COVID transmission, they said.
Sebastian Hoehl from the Institute for Medical Virology of Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany said, “A plane cabin is probably the most secure condition you can be in.” Scientific American in November 2020.
Wall Street Journal The medical literature reviewed last week showed that there is no risk of transmission. It is however elevated during meals service (when all passengers take off their masks simultaneously) and when deplaning and planning takes place.
Feinstein’s press release mentioned a variety of polls and studies to back her mandate proposal. A study that was published in the past year is one of these. PNASThe journal of the National Academy of Sciences published a study that showed increased travel between counties and states increased the risk of COVID transmission. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that only a third of those who are not willing to get the vaccine would travel if the requirement was met. Senator also mentioned a Mayo Clinic study that showed airline passengers could be tested to detect active infections.
The first study examined the impact of travel on COVID transmission rates. It’s important that this be noted. Kaiser’s poll showed, however, that vaccine-reticent people can be inducible to have the jab provided they don’t wear masks when traveling.
One proponent of vaccination mandates may argue that although airplanes do not have high levels of transmission, it could be safer to require passengers to get vaccinated.
It’s true. It is true. However, testing and vaccinations on planes could deter people from flying, leading to them choosing the safer option of driving. This will lead to more car accidents and more deaths than the safety benefits of lowering in-air COVID transmission.
TSA security is a great parallel. TSA security is a good example. This was almost certain to outweigh any terrorist-caused deaths that the TSA security screenings could have prevented.
During the COVID-19 epidemic, airplanes remain among the safest indoor environments. Mandating vaccinations and/or testing for airline passengers will likely have minimal safety benefits. This could be offset by the second order effect, which encourages more driving than flying.
Feinstein’s bill to mandate vaccines would have to be balanced against the civil liberties implications of creating a federal vaccination passport system which could be used for more than air travel.
Airlines should not be required to vaccinate their passengers. A Kaiser poll suggests other ways to encourage vaccination that are just as effective, according to senator. It seems like a more effective alternative to another, potentially harmful and counter-productive government mandate.