On Jan. 4, 2023, the U.S. Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) extended its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for non-citizens and non-immigrants traveling to the United States by air until Apr. 10, 2023. The previous mandate expired on Jan. 9.1 The U.S is one of a few countries that require COVID vaccinations when flying into US airports without the option of providing a negative SARS-CoV-2 test as an alternative to vaccination.2
All other western nations have dropped their COVID vaccine mandates and travel restrictions, leaving the U.S as the only developed country requiring a proof of COVID vaccination to cross the border.3
On Oct. 25, 2021, President Biden issued a proclamation known as Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic to implement an air travel mandate that relied primarily on vaccination as a public health measure to resume international air travel to the U.S.4
The TSA stated:
These policies are intended to limit the risk that COVID-19, including variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, is introduced, transmitted, and spread into and throughout the United States, potentially overwhelming United States healthcare and public health resources, endangering the health and safety of the American people, and threatening the security of our civil aviation system.5
COVID Vaccine Mandate Harming U.S. Trade and Tourism
The extension of the COVID vaccine shot travel mandate has been controversial. Critics say that the policy negatively impacts trade and tourism, that vaccination should be a personal choice and that the shots do not prevent infection with and transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.6 Jenny Beth Martin, the honorary chairwoman of Tea Party Patriots Action said:
President Biden himself said the pandemic is over so the original justification for the mandate has lapsed. Pre-pandemic, international tourism generated close to $2 trillion in U.S. economic activity, so denying entry to unvaccinated foreign guests is denying us untold billions in revenue.” She added that, “And last but not least, as a matter of principle, no one should be forced to take a vaccine against their will, whether they’re an American or a foreign guest.7
SARS-CoV-2 Testing Requirement Reinstated for Travelers from China
On Jan. 5, 2023, the U.S imposed mandatory COVID testing for travelers from China by requiring all air passengers two years of age and older to get a negative result from a COVID test no more than 48 hours prior to departure from China, Hong Kong, or Macau. All passengers are required to meet this requirement regardless of vaccination status. This requirement was implemented in response to the surge in COVID cases following China’s lifting of their “zero-COVID” rules.8 Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom also reinstated testing for SARS-CoV-2 infection for those traveling from China.9
International Air Transport Association (IATA) officials issued a statement expressing disappointment in the continuation of the COVID vaccine mandate for travelers flying into U.S. airports that stated, “Several countries are introducing COVID-19 testing and other measures for travelers from China, even though the virus is already circulating widely within their borders.” The IATA statement added:
It is extremely disappointing to see this knee-jerk reinstatement of measures that have proven ineffective over the last three years. Research undertaken around the arrival of the Omicron variant concluded that putting barriers in the way of travel made no difference to the peak spread of infections. At most, restrictions delayed that peak by a few days. If a new variant emerges in any part of the world, the same situation would be expected. That’s why governments should listen to the advice of experts, including the WHO, that advise against travel restrictions… Governments must base their decisions on ‘science facts’ rather than ‘science politics.’
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1 U.S. Transportation and Security Administration. Emergency Amendment: Requirements for Proof of Being Fully Vaccinated Against COVID-19 Jan. 4, 2023.
2 D’Armour A. The US extends vaccination requirement for several months. Fly Trippers Jan. 5, 2023.
3 Dzsurdzsa C. US extends border vaccine mandate until April 10. True North Jan. 5, 2023.
4 U.S. Transportation and Security Administration. Emergency Amendment: Requirements for Proof of Being Fully Vaccinated Against COVID-19 Jan. 4, 2023.
5 Dzsurdzsa C. US extends border vaccine mandate until April 10. True North Jan. 5, 2023.
6 Elmhirst L. U.S. Extends Mandatory Vaccinations For Air Arrivals Until APR Open Jaw Jan. 9, 2023.
8 Reuters. Factbox: Countries mandate COVID tests for China travellers. Jan. 11, 2023.
9 Alkema B. IATA criticizes pre-flight Covid testing requirements for China. Runway Girl Network Jan. 8, 2023.