By Christopher Robertson
Whether it is Ebola, H1N1, the season flu, or the next nasty bug that we cannot yet even imagine, if we wanted to efficiently spread the disease, one could not do much better than packing several hundred people into a cylinder for a few hours, while they eat, drink, defecate, and urinate. Even more, to make sure that the disease cannot be contained in a particular locality, we could build thousands of those cylinders and move them rapidly from one place to another worldwide, remix the people, and put them back in the cylinders for return trips back to their homes, schools, and jobs.
We are (hopefully) not going to stop airline travel. But we can make it a lot safer, by ensuring that almost everyone who boards these flights is vaccinated. That’s the thesis of a new paper out this week.
Airlines carry two million people every day. And, prior research has shown that airline travel is a vector of disease. In fact, when the September 11 attacks caused airline travel to fall, seasonal flu diagnoses fell too.
The threat of pandemics is quite real, and more generally, the mortality and morbidity associated with infectious disease is a severe public health burden. About 42,000 adults and 300 children die every year from vaccine-preventable disease. New vaccines are on the horizon.
Arguably, airlines have market-based and liability-based reasons to begin screening passengers, whether for vaccinations generally or for particular ones during an outbreak. Although the states have traditionally exercised the plenary power to mandate vaccinations, and have primarily focused on children in schools, the U.S. federal government also has substantial untapped power to regulate in this domain as well.