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While new COVID-19 cases surge, debate over lockdowns, masks and vaccine mandates continue. Yesterday, United Airlines announced that it will require all of its U.S. employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment. Juliette Kayyem, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and former Homeland Security Assistant Secretary, says vaccine requirements should apply to airline passengers as well.
While new COVID cases surge, differing opinions over lockdowns, masks and vaccine mandates prevail. Yesterday, United Airlines announced that it will require all of its U.S. employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment.
I spoke with Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security and professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, who says that similar vaccine requirements should apply to airline passengers as well.
Juliette, here we are at this point where there seems to be a pull between whether we have more mandates and more lockdowns, or we can focus our energies on trying to get more people vaccinated, why are you saying that maybe we should have a different tact?
About 20 percent of Americans are fully against vaccination. These are what we would call the anti-vaccine. But of the remaining 80 percent, it's actually quite complicated. They're diverse. They have different reasons for why they're not moving forward. Some has to do with access, some has to do with science. But a lot of it has to do with they simply feel like they can just wait and see, that the waiting is OK. And I think what you've seen in the last two weeks in the United States is, we're done waiting, and that we have to move from the, the carrots of luring people, talking to them about the science, giving them extra pay lottery systems to a system of sticks where there will be burdens, privileges will be denied.
What do you think would happen if the sticks were used? I mean, is that enough to move enough people kind of in that wait and see category?
The most recent polling from the Kaiser Family Fund shows about 41% of the unvaccinated would actually move to get vaccinated if something like airline travel was deprived because they want to go see their family members. I think the vaccinated, who are the majority in this country, are saying you can choose to be unvaccinated, but I'm done carrying the universal burden.
Why is flying the place to start?
Part of it is what can the federal government do? And they can do this. People often ask the Biden White House, will you have a federal mandate? It would be almost impossible to do. But here is a pool of people who are flying in a highly regulated industry that is regulated by the federal government. This is something that we're used to. The second is and I think it's it's worth saying is, federal government sets floors for appropriate conduct by raising the floor and simply saying, look, a major thing will be deprived or will be denied you unless you stop waiting, unless you move forward. And this is something that we now know, given this diverse group of the unvaccinated, about 41 percent of them would be moved to get a vaccination. And time is the one thing we really don't have much more of.
Now, you've gotten pushback for this idea of making it, creating any sorts of restrictions to flying, saying, well, look, if you create a no fly list, what are you doing? Are you calling unvaccinated people terrorists or why is that not an appropriate critique?
So a no fly list is just a term used to say what pool of people can or cannot go on a plane so you can't go abroad without a passport. That in some ways is a no fly list. So part of the message I wanted to say is this is a rule that can be enforced because we are always determining who can and cannot get on air travel. But it's no different than what you're seeing in the private sector right now. The NFL says to its teams, look, you can do whatever you want, but if you can't show up to a game because your team members are sick, you have to forfeit that game. We've seen a lot more on that stick side. And this would be another one to just begin to drive those numbers again before we get a new variant that the vaccine can address.
Do you think that the Biden administration's decision to make foreign travelers who are coming into the U.S. be vaccinated except for a few circumstances? Will that have an impact?
What the Biden administration is proposing, or at least putting out there is similar to what you're seeing in the private sector, which is we're just going to raise the safety floor. We are going to make a statement that we want people to get vaccinated. And it's also very business-friendly. We need to get people back onto airplanes. The airline industry is still struggling. Business travel, personal travel is still down. We need to get people moving again. And one way to get them moving and to get foreign travelers back in because we do have a ban on a lot of countries is to say, OK, we're going to start to open up. But part of that is going to include a vaccination mandate. So this will help the economy rather than hurt it.
All right. Juliette Kayyem from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, thanks so much for joining us.
Thank you for having me.
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