Why Dr. Fauci Is Wrong On A Domestic Air Travel Vaccine Mandate

Dr. Anthony Fauci has been making the rounds on public affairs programs for several days talking up vaccination requirements for domestic travel. He emphasizes in each case that it makes sense for international travel to keep virus cases out of the country (but unvaccinated Americans are allowed to return, and the virus is already spreading here rapidly).

Fauci then goes on to suggest that a domestic vaccine travel requirement would make sense, not to ‘keep the virus out’, but to serve as an incentive to get vaccinated. Fauci has headed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for 37 years. His comments are not by accident. However in addition to being legally questionable, such a requirement may wind up having the opposite effect Fauci hopes.

I would personally love this because those who are vaccinated and boosted with mRNA vaccines are less likely to get infected, clear the virus more quickly, and have virus coated in antibodies when they are infectious. In other words being surrounded only by vaccinated passengers would mean a safer environment within which I could travel.

However I do not favor it because,

  • The U.S. is not pursuing, and has never pursued, a zero covid strategy which would at least make domestic travel restrictions coherent
  • The virus is already spreading widely in the country, limiting travel to those who are vaccinated won’t ‘prevent spread’
  • And breakthrough cases are real, those who are vaccinated do get and spread the virus, just at lower rates than those who are not
  • Flying isn’t a less safe environment than other indoor congregant activities that have no such legal restriction
  • And the Supreme Court has consistently held that there’s a fundamental right to interstate travel. Cf. Crandall v. Nevada, 73 U.S. 35 (1868); United States v. Guest, 383 U.S. 745 (1966). While the court hasn’t found a specific right to particular modes of transportation, placing restrictions on air travel from New York to California or Miami to Seattle would represent a substantial burden on these rights.

Since there are fundamental rights involved, at a minimum there would have to be carveouts to avoid infringing on religious liberty as well as those unable to obtain protection from vaccines. That means either placing a burden on airlines to grant or deny vaccine exemptions, or creating a federal vaccine passport and exemption system.

Of course the data behind who is and isn’t vaccinated is generally held at the state level, and there’s no good way to do this federally. The CDC can’t even keep track of boosters versus first doses. Our federal system and data issues make this impractical.

Ultimately though Fauci’s ‘incentive to get vaccinated’ argument falls flat. And that’s because he’s no longer talking about the science of vaccines, but about human psychology and about marginal benefits of political actions. U.S. public health authorities have consistently messed up the messaging, which has led to counterproductive results, and they’d be doing the same here.

  • There’s little marginal vaccination left to encourage. Ninety percent of Americans aged 65-74 are fully vaccinated while the figure for those 75 and older is 85%. Over 80% of U.S. adults have taken a shot. As existing vaccine mandates kick, and as Omicron spreads, that’ll probably rise to 85%. In any setting there’s always going to be some vaccine refusals – that was true pre-pandemic. And not everyone flies.

  • This could backfire with even more skepticism – including for other vaccines. Fauci is right that there would be some people along a certain margin who would get vaccinated if there was a domestic air travel requirement. But that comes at a significant cost to rights, creates a significant bureaucracy to fly, all for little marginal benefit. And it likely creates even greater vaccine resistance not just to this vaccine, but as spillover to all vaccines. So there’s a public health cost.

  • There may be more effective means available. Early in the year when Congress voted stimmies to most Americans I wrote that payments should be tied to vaccination. Fauci focuses on domestic air travel because there’s some federal authority here, not because it’s the strongest lever to pull. The Biden administration is pursuing a number of other mandates, which the Supreme Court will consider in early January. They haven’t yet tried large dollar incentives for remaining holdouts to pick up a similar marginal increment.

  • Boosters are a better strategy for public health than forcing vaccines on remaining holdouts. At this point there’s far more benefit to clear, coherent messaging on booster shots than there is trying to force a first shot on those unwilling to take one. And the government has already screwed that up, since the FDA advisory committee initially voted against boosters for everyone because Biden had promised them, appearing to undercut their authority.

    We know from the data on Omicron that boosters do more than first and second doses to generate protection, and boosters can have an effect on the current Omicron wave while putting needles into the arms of those who haven’t yet had a first shot likely will not (because of the waiting period after each shot to get the next dose).

Mostly a domestic air travel vaccine requirement would be for show, in the face of a federal inability to take decisive action that ameliorates the pandemic. It’s taken 21 months for the government to prioritize testing, and they’re still moving too slowly. How the government didn’t step in with multibillion dollar at-risk orders for Paxlovid to speed up production months ago is hard to even fathom.

I would love to fly only with those that are vaxxed, and by the way only with those that are tested same day (not previous day) as well. However as a matter of public policy this isn’t the best way to manage air travel or the pandemic. Let’s focus on encouraging boosters, fast-tracking multivalent boosters, and on researching next generation vaccines (including pan-coronavirus vaccines). And let’s quickly approve billions of tests, not hundreds of millions, so that we can all test regularly before interacting with others. Airlines might even consider waiving penalties on basic economy tickets for passengers who test positive.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. What percent of the currently flying American public are vaccinated? That’s an important number. I assume it’s very high, because flyers are wealthier, more educated, and more liberal than the general public, thus more likely to be vaccinated.

    So in practice, a vaccine mandate or not might have a very small effect on the composition of travelers.

    Basically a vaccine mandate for travel is like a penis mandate for the mens bathroom. Most users already comply regardless of a mandate.

  2. The whole testing circus/hysteria needs to stop.
    It has become so bad, people with no symptoms whatsoever are taking tests because they have been scare-mongered into taking them, test positive, and then clog up ER rooms because think they are dying!
    Just Google ER Room + Vermont + COVID + asymptomatic.

    If you seriously think you need to take a test to find out if you have COVID, it means you should be taken a test at all. What you do need to have done is to have your head examined for being deranged and hysterical.
    Just imagine if we are constantly gonna test for the flu, the sniffles, or whatever. How may millions of people would test positive?

  3. Early on, I thought that the economic stimulus should be tied to vaccination. Get $10,000 if you are vaccinated or promise to be vaccinated when the vaccine is available. A family of 4 could get $40,000. Don’t want to be vaccinated, kiss your $40,000 goodbye.

    Since there are 300M Americans, the maximum payment would $3 trillion.

  4. No it should not Andrea. Only people who are on the payroll of the Medical-Industrial Complex would advocate such as thing.

  5. Austinite-

    Congrats you win the clown award. More educated means more vaccinated. And you through in wealthy for good measure. fucking dipstick.

  6. Austinite said” flyers are wealthier, more educated, and more liberal than the general public, thus more likely to be vaccinated.”

    Hahhahahaaaaa! Maybe in the 1970s. Today? Not so much.

  7. The Supreme Court is going to start the process of reviewing all of the federal covid mandates in January. They will start w/ vaccine mandates and it will all keep going. The chances of the rules as we know them today remaining unchanged after the High Court rules are slim to none.

    The voters get to weigh in next November. It is certain that there will be enough of a change in control of the legislature that the people that have driven two years of covid failure compared to other countries will be thrown out and held accountable including Fauci.

    China might be looking for a few scientists by Feb 2022

    and Ed above is absolutely right. If you test for a disease on a widespread basis, you will find people that have it – even if they never knew it.

  8. The major question is: Why is COVID raging in Blue States? Of the top 10 states with the highest COVID-19 infection rate at the moment, seven of them are governed by Democrats!
    What’s going on? Why are Democrats not “Following The Science”?? Why are Democrats trying to kill people???

    Let’s answer those questions first before talking about another virtue-signaling mandate.

  9. @Ed…Based on county voting in 2020, if you live in the reddest (pro Trump) 10% of the country versus the bluest (pro Biden) counties, you are six times more likely to die from the virus…six times!

    The current case counts are largely based on weather…when things become cold, people go indoors more often and transmit the virus to each other.

    Biden voters are more than 90% fully vaxxed. Trump supporters are just over 50%…fact

  10. This is what happens when lay people start arguing with epidemiologists and those who have expertise in mitigating risk. That is what they do and they are good at it. The more people who disregard everything that Dr. Fauci says, the longer this pandemic will inflict suffering. Gary’s arguments are not about risk mitigation from a data standpoint. The arguments that telling the truth and preventing infections will “backfire”, that people will disregard instructions, that we should incentive boosters more are policy arguments not based on science and epidemiology. If we want to end this chapter more quickly, more people should listen to Dr. Fauci and fewer lay people should throw rocks at our country’s most respected authority on pandemics and vaccines.

  11. My guess is that Fauci will walk this back. The clip I saw showed him suggesting a vax requirement would be an effective cudgel on the unvaxxed. It is truly one of th eonly times I have seen him so seriously move from providing information to engaging in outright advocacy.

    Anti-vaxxers are a frustrating bunch to deal with. I wish Fauci did not provide them fodder for their prosecution complex.

  12. Trump Derangement Syndrome is showing in Tom K.
    Trying to deny the fact that more people are infected in Blue States than anywhere else. Go see for yourself on the NYT COVID graph page.

  13. Also, those that still speak about the “unvaxxed” are themselves fact deniers.
    By now, most if not all people got vaccinated or were infected by COVID and thereby got some form of natural immunity.
    And puhleez, do not show your ignorance by denying the existence of natural immunity. Because, you know, the Spanish Flu pandemic ended due to aliens from Mars descending from the heavens and vaccinated everyone? Right?

    Sure did.

  14. @JWm,

    So-callled “scientist” like Fauci have lost all credibility by selling out to the Medical-Industrial Complex. No wonder, more and more people will simply ignore what Fauci says.

  15. Fauci has gone pretty far out on a legal limb with this and I can’t believe WH Counsel signed off on it. Neither the Government nor the airlines can legally require private citizens to submit to a specific medical treatment in order to travel between states. Fauci seems to be acting as a free agent recently and by doing so may be setting himself up to be thrown under the bus by the Administration at an opportune moment.

  16. @derek…you are either being sarcastic, widely left on the political spectrum or have lost your mind completely. You suggest paying anyone that either is vaccinated or promises to get vaccinated $10,000 each for a maximum of 4 TRILLION dollars more of Federal debit. First, the population is closer to 330 million people currently with it increasing by thousands of illegal immigrants daily. The liberal Democrats can’t get a bill of 1.2 trillion passed so how are they ever going to get one over 4 trillion passed?

    All this while we encourage thousands of immigrants to cross the border illegally without testing or vaccination. Total insanity!

    My entire family is not only vaccinated but also boosted, so I am not anti-vaccine even though the vaccine is less effective than it was originally claimed. Oh, and the administration refuses to recognize immunity from actually having the disease. Follow the science…I think not.
    I certainly hope that you were being sarcastic rather than serious.

  17. How we know Tom K. is full of crap:

    Blacks make up roughly 13% of the population and voted 87% for Biden, but are only 51% vaccinated. Unless non-Black Biden voters are somehow more than 100% vaccinated, not seeing how you get to 90%. Must have something to do with the new Equity Math.

  18. @Ed – immunity from prior infection is important, but easily pierced by Omicron, prior infection + one dose of an mRNA vaccine is *far* more protective. It’s silly to ignore the role of prior infection, but also silly to overstate it. The government should recognize it though when considering what counts as ‘fully’ vaccinated…. so odd that prior infection + one dose of pfizer is not fully vaccinated, while 1 dose of J&J is.

  19. It should be mandatory, just as it is for indoor dining in most many cities and most of Europe.

    When local spread is high, as it is now, tests should also be mandatory.

    Don’t want to vaxx and/or get a test? Drive yourself or stay home.

    Another positive side effect is the unruly cretins we’ve been dealing with in planes all year fighting masks are almost certainly also unvaccinated. We’re all better off if they just stay home.

  20. @JW “The arguments that telling the truth and preventing infections will “backfire”, that people will disregard instructions, that we should incentive boosters more are policy arguments not based on science and epidemiology.”

    Precisely. Fauci himself has left science and epidemiology *by his own admission* here. He says a domestic air travel mandate wouldn’t be able limiting spread from one place to another. He said it would be a policy tool to pressure people to get vaccinated.

    So the relevant questions are those of policy – how much benefit, at what cost, and compared to what alternatives?

  21. I still would rather see a vaccine mandate not just to fly but to enter restaurants nationwide, to ride an Uber, basically to leave your house. I agree with some of your other suggested strategies such as that they should have bought billions of tests. Also I don’t necessarily have a problem with your vaccine payout proposal.

    But this idea to give people freedom to kill and sicken others I don’t think works well.

    As for the data infrastructure, we should have a nationwide vaccine passport, and perhaps it could use TSA’s KTN infrastructure. So maybe you would generate KTN’s not just for TSAPre but also to show vax status. The KTN could be required to ride a train, take an Uber, go to work, go to the grocery store, etc.

    The Chinese 0 Covid strategy makes much more sense to me than the US’s chaos strategy all in the name of the freedom to kill others and make others sick, and letting every county and evry town and state come up with their own protocols. And for the CDC to come up with a handwritten card to track vax status as the key tracker instead of something like a file tied to your SSN or KTN.

  22. Only 61.7% of the country’s population is fully vaccinated. You focus on older groups when we see younger people being hospitalized and in some cases dying. in NYC the number of children being hospitalized with covid has quintupled since the start of the month. Common thread for people being hospitalized? We know vaccines cut down on transmission. Even with breakthrough cases the unvaccinated are much more likely to get infected and spread covid than fully vaccinated people. Not to mention breed new mutations that could be even deadlier. Have no problem with them being denied access to flying. Just like in NYC, Boston, Chicago they can’t go into restaurants etc for indoor dining without being vaccinated. It will either encourage anti-vaxxers to get vaccinated or if they still refuse maybe it will encourage them to stay put instead of spreading covid all over the place. Unvaccinated people are 60 times more likely to end up in critical care units than vaccinated people. Enough of coddling the anti-vaxxers. Many of them are the same idiots that pull down their masks every chance they get.

  23. Should we really keep calling it a “vaccine” if you need a booster shot every month? Sounds more like a “gift to the Medical Industrial Complex” to me.

  24. In my opinion it’s nuts not to be vaccinated and get the booster too. But…demanding people get it before they travel domestically is crazy too. First of all, it might not apply to flights within a state so that leaves an awfully big hole. And even if it does, we’re talking about a total of maybe 1.5 million tests a day. Can the system possibly handle that? Would there be long lines at airports for this? What do you do about the occasional false positive? Can gate agents tell a genuine test result from a phony one obtained elsewhere (maybe if everybody had an app, but not everyone has a cell phone). How about people taking interstate buses or trains? Take those instead of flying defeats the whole purpose. Would the airlines even want this?

    Look, the way this is going everybody is going to get infected sooner or later and at best we’ll slow it down a little before a milder form of the virus becomes endemic. This is what diseases generally evolve into and pretending people control nature is just driving everybody crazy. In fact, a demand like this might just collapse public willingness to follow any direction at all. It’s already going that way; social distancing is largely gone and “danger, don’t go to this country!” is like the boy who cried wolf. After a while people just get tired of being hyped up and given the short attention span of Americans this whole thing is likely to fade into the background of their lives. At best that process can be intelligently managed. But this proposal won’t do that.

  25. Can’t wait for my 4th 5th 6th 8th 9th 10Th booster etc
    The more the better! woo hoo
    I’m no Dr Foochi but I’m all for some kind of easy testing and vaccines to travel
    For years I’ve caught stuff from others while flying when they were sick
    But nothing likely that could put me 20 foot under my guess.
    Anything in the name of safety. This isn’t about spreading the common cold anymore
    We gave up our privacy on the internet and the cloud. We’ve given up our right of choice one way or the other to some degree.So if others want to beat it the topic to death so be it.
    I have one younger family member that anguishes over all of this.I have enough to worry about and as bad as it some of this may be we still aren’t communist China just yet

  26. I don’t see how anyone can ask for any kind of a mandate since the injections are NOT guarantees to work. Either you believe in the cooties and everyone that does should stay at home till it disappears or they are just plain hypocrites, saying that some risks are ok (which is what the uninjected people are saying/doing by not getting the injection amd contains to live their lives) So, basically the country is full of hypocrites and or sick/evil/demented people that continue to spread diseases after being injected by the magic cooties shot.

  27. The real decider about airline passenger vaccine mandates whether some admit it or not will be airline management and their unions.
    When 2 of the big 4 US airline CEOs said in front of a Congressional hearing that masks don’t do any good and are more harmful to the airlines than not having them, NO airline is going to support vaccine mandates for airline passengers because it will result in a huge reduction in demand.
    Whether airline unions agree w/ mgmt on covid policy or not, all airline mgmt has to do is tell the government that they will have no choice but to lay off tens of thousands of employees.
    If not being willing to lay off airline employees was an issue in the 2020 elections, it will be just as big if not bigger in 2022 AFTER the feds have spent tens of billions of dollars supporting airlines. If the government wanted to eliminate double digit percentages of capacity (similar to any of the big 4), they didn’t need to prop up airlines only to impose a vax mandate that would destroy demand.

    Fauci is out to push the limits of control using his “expertise” as a platform.

    Btw, the Chinese have put a city of 13 million people under strict lockdown as they pursue a covid zero strategy that they know full well is unattainable.

  28. I am tired of basing policy on some “right” people have to spread death and disease. Require vaccines for anything that requires an ID or admission charge. People can travel by private car, attend schools online, work from home if they insist on being unvaccinated. Not forever, but until vaccines and treatments get us to the point where these people aren’t packing the ICUs and morgues to the extent that others can’t be accommodated.

  29. Interesting and saddening that this blog’s responses reflect how politicized the pandemic has become — even as President Trump (God bless him for Operation Warp Speed) — gets his booster and advises vaccination. I write as one who got his vaccinations and boosters as soon as they were available to me.
    As to the worthless liar that is Dr. Fauci — well, I’ve said here before that he is the poster child for mandatory retirement ages. More to the point, he’s become such a lightning rod that I don’t think he can benefit *any* administration trying to fight the Chinese coronavirus. He should resign so a new face without baggage can speak.
    That said, just because it’s Fauci doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Having had to spend a small fortune on various COVID tests so my wife and I can make necessary travels outside the US, I do not understand why my domestic flights do not require boosted vaccination or a very recent negative test to fly.
    I am reminded of the time not so long ago when folk would try to get on ‘planes with various animals and livestock as their “emotional support” (vomiting noises off, stage left) animal. My answer was always the same. If you were so unhinged that you couldn’t fly without Fluffy, either buy a Teddy Bear or take the bus. I feel pretty much the same way about vaccine refusniks: get a shot, get a test, or get the bus.
    I *am not* though, in favor of mandated vaccination for the general population. That’s a slippery slope I hope no thinking person would want to launch us down. Those of us who have a few years under our belts know full well government can’t be trusted with that power, seeing full well how some politicians here and abroad have reveled in the opportunity to exercsie unlimited power in the name of public health.
    Folk have a right to refuse vaccination. They do not, IMO, have a right to do so without cost or inconvenience.

  30. The big question here is why a travel blogger thinks he knows more that Dr. (DOCTOR – PhD) Fauci.

  31. Fauci should disappear from the spotlight. He’s well past retirement age and no longer relevant. He’s had his fun being the big-shot know-it-all for far too long. If people are afraid of catching the virus, they should stay home. The rest of us need to get on with our lives. This virus disaster needs to be OVER.

  32. @CW

    Do you also goose-step down the street, sporting the straight arm salute???

    YOU NAZI!!!!!!

    You and fascist idiots like you need to do the World a favor and drink 3 gallons of bleach!

  33. The real question is why a doctor – regardless of credentials – continues to push for measures which have been established as beyond what the federal government can do.
    As much as some people might dislike it, the federal government is LIMITED by the constitution and the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the power of the states and localities to do what the federal government often tries to do.
    If Biden could have imposed a national vaccine mandate, he most certainly would have. So he berates people who have had full control of their own health decisions for their entire lives. There is NOTHING about this pandemic according to the constitution that allows the federal government to violate the separation of powers that exists in the United States.
    The Supreme Court is taking up two types of vaccine mandates not because they are medical experts but because they are legal experts.
    The reason Fauci has failed is because he cannot work within a system where he is not the center of the universe and people are doing what they want to do.

    Vaccine mandates won’t pass Congress because legislators aren’t willing to defend their decisions before the public and the Supreme Court will say that imposing them any other way is not legal.

  34. “We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness“
    What about the right o “life” of the 800,000 US citizens who have died from COVID. Seems like their rights have been seriously violated but somehow you think that interstate travel is a more important right. That doesn’t make any sense.

  35. Stop with the testing. You either have it or you will have it.
    Stop with the masks!! They don’t work!!!
    Stop with the boosters. If we continue down this path it will be a catastrophe…..

    Fauci should be put on trial. He started all this with his gain of function. Hasn’t practiced medicine in years. Never treated anyone for Covid. He is sub-human.

    Second call to the WHO: Please, don’t vaccinate against Omicron.
    Gary – watch someone who knows what he is talking about and has been right since his message last February.

    You can see the disaster unfolding right now. It is from the VACCINATED!

    voiceforscienceandsolidarity dot org/ (From a Pro Vaccine Expert)

  36. @Todd what you are promoting makes no scientific or practical sense. Everyone knows that non-symptom is spread of COVID is a real threat so many people have it without showing any signs of illness. And a vaccine still is very effective and prevents seriously illness. The unvaccinated are the vast majority of people in the hospitals and dying. Get a clue.

  37. @DaveS “I am tired of basing policy on some “right” people have to spread death and disease. Require vaccines for anything that requires an ID or admission charge. ”

    Would you include no ID no vote?

  38. @Alex –

    Sorry but you must unlearn what has been shoved into your brain. Go watch the video. Learn something. Stop being a sheep.

    I don’t really care much at this point. Let it all unfold as it will. This MUST get a lot worse before people wake up. It’s coming if we keep jabbing…

  39. We should have done that a lot sooner. In fact, the world should have done it a lot sooner. Viruses don’t travel. People do.

  40. Would love to see a vaccinated with quadruple-or-more boosters airline. With free donuts, all the liquor one could drink, extra wide seats for your double-sized rear ends and double masking at minimum level N95. I would bet money on the short-term life expectancy.

  41. This is just about strong-arming Americans. That’s all it is……possibly the most un-American thing ever.
    The big mean orange man would never entertain such bullshit.

  42. @jfhscott – “My guess is that Fauci will walk this back.”

    Already done: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/fauci-i-don-t-think-people-should-expect-a-domestic-flight-vaccine-mandate/ar-AASbSoC?ocid=msedgntp

    @Tim Dunn – Precisely. The pandemic has shown that a significant number of people in this country have a level of constitutional literacy at frighteningly low levels. Fauci is like the nerdy kid who was bullied in school, all of a sudden gets a lot of power & prestige, and gets drunk on said power and prestige.

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