Republican Senator Rick Scott from Florida has introduced a bill that seeks to block the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from mandating proof of vaccination to fly domestically.
The TSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Created during the Bush administration in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the agency has authority over travel security and is mostly concerned with air travel.
Scott’s bill, the Freedom to Fly Act, states that the Administrator of the TSA or the Secretary of Homeland Security “may not prescribe or implement any regulation or policy that would allow employees of the Transportation Security Administration to request information relating to vaccinations from any passenger traveling on a flight between States or territories or possessions of the United States.”
In a statement, Senator Scott said that travel is “critical” to progressing to a fully reopened American economy and that the federal government “has no business requiring travelers to turn over their personal medical information to catch a flight.”
“My Freedom to Fly Act ensures families in Florida and across the country can travel freely and without the ridiculous government bureaucracy created by vaccine passports,” he said.
In a recent interview with ABC News, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stated that the government was “taking a very close look” at requiring vaccine passports for international travel. He added that any vaccine passport would be “accessible to all,” and no one will be “disenfranchised.” He added, “There’s an underlying point here, of course, which is everyone should get vaccinated.”
In a statement to Forbes, a Homeland Security spokesperson said that Secretary Mayorkas was referring to a passport “ensuring that all U.S. travelers will be able to easily meet any anticipated foreign country entry requirements… There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”
In early April, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said to reporters that the Biden administration would not require Americans “to carry a credential” proving that they are vaccinated. In an April 8 tweet, House Minority Leader Republican Kevin McCarthy characterized vaccine passports as “something you’d expect in Communist China. Not in the United States of America.”
Several American states have passed bills or other measures that ban businesses from asking for vaccine passports from customers, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.
At an April 21 hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation, Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, stated that vaccine passports “must be voluntary,” and not a “mandatory program that keeps certain people from being able to access air travel.”
In a survey conducted by Gallup between April 19 and 25, 57 percent of respondents favored requiring proof of vaccination to fly, while 43 percent opposed the requirement. A Yahoo News/YouGov poll conducted between April 6 and 8 found that 61 percent of Democrats favored businesses requiring vaccine passports, while 62 percent of Republicans opposed the idea.
On Feb. 5, 2021, the WHO issued a statement advising national authorities and conveyance operators not to require vaccination proof for international travel because “there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission.” However, the WHO stated that vaccinated people should still comply with other travel risk-reduction measures.
The two mRNA vaccines being administered in the United States from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have only been given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). An EUA is granted to “unapproved medical products or unapproved uses of approved medical products,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Vaccine passports and the International situation
The European Union’s digital vaccine passport system went live on June 1, and the full launch for all 27 member states will occur on July 1. The EU will issue a digital green certificate, which will show whether a person has tested negative for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the last 72 hours, has recovered from the virus, or has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Those who fulfill any one of the three criteria will be exempt from testing and quarantine while traveling to member nations. At present, the seven countries that accept the certificate are Bulgaria, Denmark, Czech Republic, Greece, Germany, Poland, and Croatia.
The government of Australia is reportedly in talks with the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association of 290 airlines from around the world, to implement a digital certificate to allow vaccinated Australians to participate in quarantine-free travel overseas.
In the UK, demonstrators recently held a “United for Freedom” march, chanting slogans against pandemic restrictions and holding placards saying “no to vaccine passports.”