House passes bill to end COVID vaccine requirement for foreign air travelers

House passes bill to end COVID vaccine requirement for foreign air travelers

Legislation that would eliminate a requirement that most foreign travelers arriving in the U.S. be vaccinated against COVID-19 passed the House Wednesday.

Under the requirement imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all adult visitors who are not citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. are required to show proof of COVID vaccination before boarding their flight to the country.

The legislation passed on a mostly party-line vote of 227-201.  Seven Democrats joined all Republicans voting in favor.

“This policy is out of touch with the rest of the world,” Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee, said on the floor during debate.

Ending the requirement “will align the United States with the rest of North America’s COVID-19 vaccine policy for people coming into the country and recognize COVID-19 is an endemic—rather than a pandemic,” Guthrie said.

Democrats argued the legislation doesn’t allow for any future mandates if cases rise or the virus mutates, putting more people at risk.

“This is dangerous and ties the hands of our public health experts to the political whims of the most ideologically extreme in a way that makes our nation less safe and more vulnerable in the future,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The bill, from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), would also prevent the CDC from implementing any similar mandates to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. 

Massie, who has said he is not vaccinated, has long questioned the safety and efficacy of the COVID vaccines. But experts and officials all agree the benefits of vaccination in preventing severe outcomes, including hospitalization and death, outweigh the possible risks. And hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received COVID shots.

The Biden administration in June dropped its requirement that people arriving in the country by air must test negative for COVID-19, but the CDC vaccination requirements remain. Experts noted that the testing requirement did not seem to be serving much purpose, given that COVID-19 is already circulating widely within the United States.  

The CDC says vaccines continue to be the most important public health tool for fighting COVID-19 and recommends all travelers be vaccinated.

In a statement, the White House said it was reviewing the policy as part of its preparation to end the pandemic public health emergency, and opposed rescinding it without a scientific review.

“The President issued this Proclamation based on advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As we approach the end of the public health emergency, the Administration will review all relevant policies, including this one,” the White House said. “Just as the establishment of this public health policy was guided by science, any termination or modification of this policy should be as well. A vote for this bill undercuts that critical principle.”

The travel industry had lobbied to remove the requirement, saying it was an unnecessary obstacle to visitors.

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“Every day this policy remains in place encourages some travelers to avoid the U.S., costing us valuable visitor spending and delaying our efforts to reignite inbound travel,” Tori Emerson Barnes, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy at the U.S. Travel Association, said in a statement.

“The U.S. is the only country that still has this requirement for international visitors when there is no longer any public health justification.”

Updated Feb. 9 at 10:38 a.m.

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