The Biden administration will lift the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for international travellers entering the United States next week, the White House announced Monday.
The mandate for air travellers, as well as a separate order covering federal government workers and contractors, will come to an end on May 11 — the same day the national public health emergency related to the pandemic will be lifted.
The administration will also “start the process to end” vaccine mandates for early childhood educators in the Head Start program, health-care workers and “certain noncitizens at the land border” on the same day, a statement from the White House said.
“Our COVID-19 vaccination requirements bolstered vaccination across the nation, and our broader vaccination campaign has saved millions of lives,” the statement said.
The White House added the U.S. is “in a different phase of our response to COVID-19 than we were when many of these requirements were put into place” in 2021.
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At the time they were announced, those mandates and others covered more than 100 million Americans.
The lifting of the vaccine mandate for incoming travellers comes months after Canada’s own program was allowed to expire. Travellers entering Canada have not been required to show proof of vaccination since Oct. 1, 2022.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed the international traveller mandate last week, considering anyone who received a single dose of either a Pfizer or Moderna bivalent vaccine on or after Aug. 16, 2022, as having met the requirement. Before, at least two doses of an approved vaccine were required.
“For over three years now there have been barriers to cross-border travel,” said Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, who has long advocated for the removal of the mandates and others, like the one covering truckers, that impeded cross-border trade during the pandemic.
“While long overdue, this last lifting of pandemic restrictions is certainly welcome news and critically important as we seek opportunities to encourage a robust cross-border exchange that delivers shared prosperity.”
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The Biden administration’s vaccine mandates for federal workers and contractors have been subject to a series of court challenges that argued the White House overstepped its authority in imposing health requirements on people.
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The vaccine requirement for federal workers was blocked by a U.S. appeals court in March. Yet the administration has noted 98 per cent of the federal government workforce had complied with the mandate.
Federal courts and Congress have already rolled back Biden’s vaccine requirements for large employers and military service members.
Mandates for many employees of the National Institutes of Health, Indian Health Service and Department of Veterans Affairs — which implemented their own requirements for health-care staff and others independent of the White House — will remain while those agencies review their own requirements, the administration said.
More than 270 million people in the U.S., or just over 81 per cent of the population, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC. Over 83 per cent of Canadians have been vaccinated with at least one shot.
— with files from The Associated Press
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