House Democrat proposes vaccine or testing mandate for trains and planes

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) addresses supporters of Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe at a grassroots campaign event at Lubber Run Park in Arlington, Va., on Friday, July 23, 2021.
Greg Nash

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) on Thursday unveiled legislation to require all airline and train passengers in the U.S. to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test in order to travel. 

The legislation, called the Safe Travel Act, calls for all passengers, employees, contractors and subcontractors of Amtrak and commercial airlines to show that they have either been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or tested negative for the virus within 72 hours of travel. 

While the Biden administration has implemented a federal mask mandate for all public transportation, which the Transportation Security Administration extended last month through Jan. 18, the federal government has not made testing or vaccinations for travel. 

Beyer, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement Thursday that “requiring airport and Amtrak travelers and employees to provide a proof of COVID vaccine or negative test is just common sense.” 

“These are easy steps we can take to make travel safer, as companies like United have already demonstrated with responsible policy changes,” he added, referring to the airline’s requirement for all U.S. employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The company told its staff Wednesday that those who are granted religious exemptions under the policy could be placed on temporary unpaid leave. 

Beyer argued that “Americans want a return to normal that includes traveling for business or pleasure, and Congress can help make people comfortable traveling again by putting basic requirements in place that prevent the spread of Covid.”

The legislative proposal comes less than a month after Beyer introduced the Protecting Vulnerable Patients Act, which would require healthcare workers who see Medicare or Medicaid patients to be vaccinated following the full approval of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Days after Beyer introduced the legislation, which has not yet seen any movement in the House, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people aged 16 and older. 

The White House said last month that it was strongly considering requiring foreign visitors to the U.S. to be fully vaccinated, though officials cautioned that no final decision had been made. 

White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said at the time, “That’s one of the paths that’s being looked at and considered, but there are alternative paths being looked at, at the same time.” 

The Biden administration has ramped up recommendations for the private sector to implement vaccine mandates, and a source familiar with the situation confirmed Thursday that Biden will institute a requirement for all federal workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Tags BioNTech coronavirus vaccine COVID-19 vaccination in the United States COVID-19 vaccine Don Beyer FDA Food and Drug Administration House Jeff Zients Medical research Pfizer vaccine mandates

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