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Fauci says a COVID-19 vaccine requirement on domestic flights isn’t necessary right now, but thinks the US should really consider it

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci indicated that an air travel vaccine mandate is not needed yet for domestic flights.
  • He said that current air filtration and masking requirements are “sufficient” to keep travelers safe.
  • The US is dealing with a surge of COVID-19 cases tied to the Omicron variant amid a busy holiday travel season.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says US officials can hold off for now on COVID-19 vaccine requirements for US-based flights.

The Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said in a White House press briefing on Wednesday that his colleagues and he “do not feel that it’s necessary” to require vaccines to fly domestically. 

The comments come during a spike in coronavirus cases, with the US on Wednesday breaking the daily record for reported COVID-19 cases, tied to the more transmissible Omicron variant, which now accounts for 59% of COVID diagnoses according to the CDC. Meanwhile, holiday air travel remains higher than last year, averaging over 1.95 million people a day this past week.

Earlier this week, Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, appeared on ABC News’ “This Week,” signaling his staunch support for a vaccine mandate for US-bound air travel, and suggesting that such a mandate was “welcome” and would help spur more people to get vaccinated.

“Right now, we feel that the masking requirements and the degree of filtration on a plane is sufficient to keep people safe,” Fauci said in the briefing regarding domestic travel, noting less strict standards compared to international travel.

For international flights, people are currently required to be fully vaccinated to keep infections and new COVID variants from spreading in the US, according to Fauci. In addition, the CDC says inbound travelers from abroad must also present a negative COVID test and wear masks on planes. 

Fauci joins President Joe Biden, who remarked earlier this month that a domestic flight mandate was not needed at this time. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in November that a domestic air travel mandate wasn’t necessary, also citing effective mitigation strategies on planes.

“If there’s a need to do more beyond this masking, namely having a vaccine issue, we will seriously consider that as new information arises,” Fauci said, adding that safety standards are discussed on a daily and weekly basis. “It’s just keeping an open mind that the situation may change.”

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