Growing number of medical experts urge COVID vaccine requirement for domestic air travel

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 during the upcoming holiday travel season, a growing number of medical experts are urging U.S. airlines to require a proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test in order for passengers to fly domestically.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein has also proposed a bill that would require proof of vaccination, a negative COVID test or recent recovery from coronavirus for domestic travel.

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"I think it's a really great idea to have vaccine mandates for travel," Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at UCSF, told ABC7 News. "What it does is it ensures immunity on the plane, and what that does is make everyone feel a lot better as they contemplate travel this holiday season."

On Sunday night, Dr. Ashish Jsa, the Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, wrote a thread on Twitter making the case for an airline vaccine mandate. He documented his own recent experience on a flight where the woman sitting next to him was not fully wearing her mask and told him she was not vaccinated.

"I understand the person next to me had the freedom not to be vaccinated," he tweeted, adding: "The old man next to her has the right to fly without getting infected."



UCSF's Dr. George Rutherford told ABC7 News he also supports airlines making a vaccine or testing requirement so long as travelers with exemptions and children are accommodated.

Although doctors are hopeful for the change ahead of the holidays, Airlines for America, a lobbying group for U.S. airlines, and the U.S. Travel Association said they are opposed to a potential vaccine mandate for domestic air travel.

Both groups point to research showing there is a very low risk of virus transmission on aircrafts.

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"The science--including studies from the Harvard School of Public Health and the U.S. Department of Defense--overwhelmingly points to the safety of air travel as long as masks are worn," Tori Emerson Barnes, the U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy, said in a statement last month.

Barnes added, "Such a policy would have an unfair, negative impact on families with young children who are not yet eligible to get the vaccine."

Dr. Gandhi said while air travel is safe, vaccines -- not masks -- are a long term and safer solution to fighting the virus.

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"Masks are effective actually," Dr. Gandhi agreed. "But the problem is people take them off and on. You actually eat on a plane...and so a plane is a very mixed-bag. There's a lot of people from all over the country."

At San Francisco International Airport on Monday, fliers were mixed about the potential proposal.

"I don't agree with it," Hannah Evans, who was flying home to Seattle, told ABC7 News.

"It's just not really fair to do this to us, you know?"

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She said she would potentially be open to the mandate if COVID-19 testing becomes more widely available. "Where we're from, it's hard to get the test," she said. "You have to wait a few days to get it."

Wayne Quattlebaum said he would feel much safer traveling if there were a vaccine or testing mandate.

"Definitely...they should," Quattlebaum said.

"If they do it, it will be safer for not just me, but everybody who flies."

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