When is a shield actually a sieve? On October 25, 2021, President Joe Biden issued “A Proclamation on Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the Covid-19 Pandemic.” This Proclamation indicated a plan to “move away from the country-by-country restrictions previously applied during the Covid-19 pandemic and to adopt an air travel policy that relies primarily on vaccination to advance the safe resumption of international air travel to the United States.” The plain would include requiring those wanting to travel by air to the U.S. from a foreign country to first show proof of being fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Requiring proof of vaccination seems to make sense if you want to use vaccination as the primary shield to prevent more severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), especially new variants, from entering the U.S. Those vaccinated against Covid-19 may be less likely to be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 and thus less likely to be carrying the virus. So you could be reducing the chances that the SARS-CoV-2 makes it on to an airplane bound for the U.S.
But on Saturday, New York City Councilmember Mark D. Levine (D) pointed out the “hole” problem with this plan:
Hole-ly moly. As you can see in the Presidential Proclamation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, this Covid-19 vaccination requirement for air travelers doesn’t apply to a “hole” lot of people. The CDC website stipulates, “If you are a non-U.S. citizen who is a nonimmigrant (not a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, lawful permanent resident, or traveling to the United States on an immigrant visa), you will need to show proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before you travel by air to the United States from a foreign country.”
That’s not all. According to the CDC, “the Presidential Proclamation and CDC’s Order do not apply to immigrants (including Special Immigrant Visa holders).” The following folks fall under this “not” list as well: non-U.S. citizens eligible for asylum, non-U.S. citizens eligible for withholding of removal, non-U.S. citizens eligible for protection under the regulations issued pursuant to the legislation implementing the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and non-U.S. citizens granted parole into the United States.
That’s a lot of “nons” and “nots.” This means quite a few loopholes. And in this case loophole isn’t referring to the things on face masks that go around your ears. The number of U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or U.S. lawful permanent residents flying from other countries into the U.S. is probably not insignificant. People tend to fly back to the U.S. after they’ve left the country for business, for pleasure, or for pleasurable business. So why aren’t these folks being included in the vaccination requirement? Wouldn’t such loopholes leave the Covid-19 vaccination shield more like a pair of really ripped jeans in a mosquito swarm?
After all, the virus doesn’t check your passport first before deciding whether to infect you. All you need is a nose or a mouth and a respiratory tract to get infected. (By the way, if you are missing all of these, please contact a doctor immediately or accept the fact that you are a ficus plant.) So in theory anyone unvaccinated, whether or not they are U.S. citizen, national, or permanent resident, could have a decent chance of carrying the virus. Unlike people, the virus doesn’t really discriminate. Believing anything otherwise would be taking “American exceptionalism” to the extreme.
This is not to say that reinstituting country-by-country restrictions instead would make sense or would be effective. It’s difficult to predict where the next variant may emerge or how it may enter the U.S. Trying to predict this could be like trying to anticipate the next move when you’re playing Texas Hold Em against a squirrel. Once you’ve instituted travel restrictions the new variant may have already made it to the U.S. In fact, with the U.S. lagging many other countries in Covid-19 vaccination coverage and compliance with face mask wearing and other precautions, new variants may be even more likely to emerge in the U.S. than other locations.
This isn’t to say that vaccination requirements are not useful either. You don’t say, “to heck with wearing all clothes,” when some of your clothes are ripped. While the available Covid-19 vaccines aren’t like full-body concrete condoms and do not offer 100% protection, they can significantly reduce your risk of getting infected with the SARS-CoV-2 and having more severe Covid-19.
No, a key to such Covid-19 precautions in general is uniformity and consistency. If you are going to rely on a Covid-19 vaccination requirement, apply it equally to everyone. This way the shield would be more like a shield rather than like fishnet lingerie or a mankini. It also would show that such decisions are driven by science and not politics or business. Moreover, people would be less inclined to feel that they are being discriminated against or treated unfairly. After all, you don’t see too many people protesting against these “everyone should wear clothes and not pee in public” mandates, do you?