A vaccine requirement for interstate travel has been discussed inside the Biden administration, but they’re not ready to pull the trigger. This would affect air travel the most, but also rail and bus as well.
This line in an @AP White House story is getting a lot of attention this morning. A White House official says mandating vaccines for interstate travel "is not under consideration at this moment." https://t.co/wCSkPl7sny
— davidshepardson (@davidshepardson) August 13, 2021
The President’s former Senior Advisor for Covid-19 was recently talking up vaccine requirements, or passports, as recently as Tuesday. It’s unlikely the U.S. government has a great way in the near-term to make real vaccine passports possible, since the data resides at the state level and it doesn’t seem like data integration, let alone getting all states to go along, would happen any time soon. Look at how many years it’s taken the government to bludgeon states into going along with REAL ID and not only are vaccine passports a political flashpoint but several Red State governors are facing upcoming primary challenges.
Hold on for 3 1/2 weeks and you will see…
— Andy Slavitt 🇺🇸💉 (@ASlavitt) August 11, 2021
Probably all that the federal government can do in mandating vaccination broadly, under current law, is to make it a requirement for interstate travel, just as the only thing the Biden administration has been able to do in mandating masks is for travel and even the legality of that is questionable. Congress seems unlikely to grant broader powers at this point, remember they didn’t even bother to do it as Congressional Democrats pushed the Biden administration to extend the eviction ban – preferring executive action of dubious legality when legislation could have bolstered that position.
I don’t expect a vaccination requirement to come to pass for two reasons.
- We may be peaking in the Delta wave now, so it’s unlikely to be put into place if they’re not doing it now.
- There’s a tremendous status quo bias in policy.
The Biden administration has shown little interest in shifting policy away from the measures put in place by the Trump administration, like bans of travelers from Europe and China, refusing to allow vaccinated Germans to enter the U.S. after testing negative for Covid-19 while welcoming unvaccinated Russians and Indonesians – though the rate of spread in Germany makes even an unvaccinated German less likely to spread the virus than an unvaccinated American in a bar. Similar policies towards immigration and oil (calling for more production by OPEC even as environmental goals would suggest the opposite) show the status quo bias of American politics.
There was no serious discussion of tying stimulus checks earlier in the year to recipients getting vaccinated. Now the Biden administration just encourages states to offer far more modest rewards. All we’re talking about is whether schools should require masks, and not whether they’re doing enough to improve ventilation, even though mask requirements generally allow for a thin strip of paper and two strings and we don’t have effectiveness data on their combating the Delta variant. We haven’t moved beyond the crudest tools to slow the spread of the virus even after 18 months.
It is far easier to keep current policies in place, even where they don’t make sense, than to implement new ones that do. And we see that across the government, for instance in delaying booster shots of Covid-19 vaccines the government prioritizes getting more first doses in arms (current policy) when they were against prioritizing first doses in arms by delaying second doses earlier in the pandemic (also status quo policy).
We may not see it at the national level in terms of cases yet, but it’s likely the Delta wave is already peaking or will in the next couple of weeks in the places that have been hit hardest like Florida and Texas. It may then move North. But if full hospitals in hot spots haven’t led the Biden administration to place restrictions on travel for the unvaccinated, it’s unlikely that further virus spread will serve as that impetus.
A vaccination requirement for travel is also not something to expect to see come out of an airline. United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby has said that’s a matter for national policy, not for airlines on their own. And he’s been willing to go the farthest in requiring it for his own employees (but the benefit is most limited for passengers when it’s only the employees who must be vaccinated).