A decision on whether the White House will mandate vaccines for international visitors seems months away. The issue has complexities, and with the Delta variant raging, the Biden administration doesn't appear to be in a hurry to resolve them.
The White House on Thursday confirmed it may require visitors from abroad to be vaccinated as part of its plans to eventually reopen international travel but said it had yet to decide and would not immediately lift restrictions.
But at a separate briefing, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki acknowledged it was uncertain whether the United States would mandate vaccines.
White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients confirmed that an interagency working group was developing plans that may require some type of vaccine requirement for foreign nationals.
Reuters first reported the White House effort to develop vaccine requirements that could cover nearly all foreign visitors.
“We will be ready when it is the right time to consider reopening,” Zients said at a White House COVID-19 briefing.
At the other briefing, spokeswoman Psaki acknowledged inconsistencies in the current restrictions barring people from some countries with low COVID-19 rates but not from others with high rates.
The White House again said on Thursday it was not ready to immediately lift restrictions because of the rising COVID-19 caseload and highly transmissible Delta variant.
The extraordinary U.S. travel restrictions were first imposed on China in January 2020 to address the spread of COVID-19. Numerous other countries have been added, most recently India in May.
The White House has held discussions with airlines and others about how it would implement a policy of requiring vaccines for foreign visitors.
The administration must also consider what proof it would accept of vaccination and whether the United States would accept vaccines that some countries are using but which have yet to be authorized by U.S. regulators.
The United States currently bars most non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days have been in the United Kingdom, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.
It was not immediately clear whether a plan would require visitors arriving from Mexico and Canada to be vaccinated before crossing land borders.
Industry officials say it will be at least weeks and potentially months before restrictions are lifted.
Some critics of the restrictions say they no longer make sense because some countries with high rates of COVID-19 infections are not on the restricted list while some countries on the list have the pandemic under control.
The Biden administration has also been talking to U.S. airlines in recent weeks about establishing international contact tracing for passengers before lifting travel restrictions.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Howard Goller)
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Photo credit: Airline arrivals and departures information board at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Nov. 28, 2018. The Biden White House is mulling requiring vaccines for international arrivals. Hannah Sampson / Skift