Since early 2020, foreign visitors to the United States have been limited. Despite many countries having lower COVID cases than the United States, the Biden administration has kept the ruling in place and extended the travel bans, much to the chagrin of world leaders who have allowed U.S. travelers across their own borders and expected some reciprocity. However, the new roadmap to a fully reopened Land of the Free has watchers and commentators scratching their heads. From the bizarre to the confusing, the information so far released suggests this is more theatrical posturing than a genuine effort at protecting citizens from the ravages of the pandemic.
According to the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, Jeff Zients, all foreign travelers to the United States will be required to be fully vaccinated and tested prior to entry. While many may applaud this effort to keep Americans safe from the Delta variant or other emerging mutations, there are a number of fairly significant issues that seem to imply this is more about appearances than efficacy.
Exhibit A – Don’t Look South!
First, if the intention is to stop visitors from passing on the virus to unsuspecting Americans or even to ensure that health services are not overwhelmed by an influx of COVID cases, the administration should cast its eyes to the southern border. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) figures, there were more than 200,000 “encounters” in the month of August alone.
So what are “encounters”? Essentially people who are trying to enter illegally and are detained by officers. What is not included in the last 12 months’ figure of more than 1.7 million encounters are those who did not make contact with CBP. The apprehension or encounter figures are staggering enough, but the number could be a great deal higher when added to the unknown tally of those who do not conveniently enter at a legal port.
So with at least two million illegal entries per year, all people with no prerequisite to be vaccinated or submit to tests, how effective will mandating vaccination proof be in protecting Americans from outside infection?
Exhibit B – Sorry, Wrong Vaxx
With a number of different vaccinations available worldwide, which will be accepted as viable by the administration? In the United Kingdom, for example, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was initially the most prevalent, with a reported 100 million shots purchased. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has to date approved only the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine (marketed as Comirnaty). Does this mean that all other vaccines will not be regarded as suitable protection for entry into the United States?
And let’s not forget Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recent announcement that he is looking into vaccination shots for those between the ages of five and 12. Although the new U.S. travel requirements are only applicable to adults for now, if FDA approval is granted for childhood vaccination, does it mean that only vaccinated children will be permitted entry to the United States? Currently many countries are not recommending vaccines for children; will any effort be made to coordinate a policy to allow for this variation?
And while some may consider this a problem for other people and not an issue that directly impacts most Americans, consider the words of Fauci on his semi-regular Sunday show tour. He said, “We have not yet gotten to the point of requiring vaccinations on domestic flights, but everything is on the table. We consider these things literally on a daily basis. So suffice it to say, it’s still on the table right now.”
A Plan With No Point
Until the FDA gets around to approving vaccines that are not even available domestically, there can be no confidence that the efficacy level is high. With millions crossing the border having neither tests nor vaccine certification, there can be no substantial reduction of risk. So what is the point?
It seems that this is once again an effort by the administration to appear to be seen to be doing something rather than doing anything. Biden’s plan gives the impression of little more than a holding pattern with which to distract from myriad other issues, and provide talking points for embattled spokespeople.
Should the Biden administration’s track record to date be any indication, the process could well be fraught with troubles and new bureaucratic difficulties, eventually leading to more problems than it seeks to solve. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted that the new rules were a result of international working groups with a mind to an “equitable and clear” policy. She said that the older rules were “a bit confusing.” When questioned on why legal travelers face such requirements when illegal entrants do not, Psaki responded that “They are not intending to stay here for a lengthy period of time.” “I don’t think it’s the same thing. It is not the same thing.”
If the goal of this policy was to make the process clearer, it appears to have fallen at the first hurdle.
Read more from Mark Angelides.