Strict mask mandates and social distancing may be the new normal when traveling in the United States, but Americans won’t have to worry about their vaccination status when boarding a plane or train anytime soon, according to U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.
Murthy joined CNN host Dana Bash on “State of the Union” Sunday to discuss the sweeping vaccine mandates imposed by the Biden administration last week that will reportedly impact about 100 million Americans.
Bash asked Murthy why the government has not imposed similar extensive mandates for travel on planes or on trains.
The surgeon general acknowledged that while the question was reasonable, the practice of implementing restrictions based on vaccination status for travel could create “equity concerns.”
“We know that, when it comes to mandating vaccines for travel, there are important issues around equity that would have to be worked out to ensure that people, for example, if they had to travel in the case of emergency to see a relative who got sick, would be able to do that, even if they weren’t vaccinated,” Murthy responded, saying, “We need to find a safe way for that to happen.”
Murthy conceded that there were important considerations to weigh, but pointed to some of the measures already in place to stop the spread among travelers.
“There are measures in what the president announced that will apply to travel, including a doubling of the fines for those who do not observe some of those precautions,” Murthy said, referring to mask mandates on modes of transportation and noting that he is impressed by how many people have been sticking to the regulations.
“I do think overall though, Dana, the measures that you see taken in what the president announced when it comes to the vaccine requirements, that will help reach 100 million workers in the federal government and in the private sector,” he contended.
Murthy, who served in the same role under former President Barack Obama, highlighted the importance of the vaccine in reducing the risk of a serious outcome like hospitalization or death, even if travelers are exposed to someone carrying the virus.
The efficacy of the vaccine continues to be questioned and remains a concern for Americans who are still unvaccinated.
This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting 11,754 hospitalizations, 1,077 deaths and 136,558 news cases daily.
Murthy defended Biden’s controversial vaccination requirements for federal workers (who will have an exemption for religious or medical reasons), health care systems and workers, and business workers who have 100 or more employees.
“A lot of businesses are actually relieved that these are going into place. And we have heard a lot of feedback from the Business Roundtable and others that this will help create safer workplaces…But, finally, Dana, keep this in mind. This is what we have got to do to get to the next phase of this pandemic response so that we can get through this and get back to normal once and for all,” Murthy said.
Murthy touched on the global effort to get people vaccinated, saying President Biden will be making announcements ahead of the U.N. General Assembly about additional measures that the U.S. is taking to help vaccinate the world.
Before ending the segment, Bash asked about the timeline for vaccine availability to children under 12.
The surgeon general said it remains the FDA’s top priority.
“They are ready as soon as the companies finish their trials and get the data to them to process that quickly, to review it and make sure our kids have a vaccine that is both safe and effective,” Murthy concluded.
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