With the omicron variant of COVID-19 sending cases skyrocketing, officials are mulling the possibility of stricter vaccination requirements to minimize the spread and severity of the virus. While there have been many breakthrough cases in fully vaccinated people, unvaccinated people are five times more likely to contract the virus and 14 times more likely to die from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
One of the mandates being floated is a vaccination requirement for domestic air travel. President Joe Biden's top health advisor and National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the mandate should be "seriously considered." The Biden administration has previously ruled out a domestic travel vaccine mandate, but the President more recently said he would implement one if his medical team advised it.
Many prominent Republicans have downplayed the need for vaccinations, falsely suggesting the likelihood of a vaccinated person getting COVID-19 is equal to that of an unvaccinated person. They've also railed against vaccine mandates as a federal overstep, despite these mandates existing in some form in the United States for more than a century, endorsed by George Washington himself.
One of those Republicans decrying vaccine passports is far-right U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel of Ohio, who absurdly claimed that an air travel vaccination mandate would prove Biden "thinks air travel is for white Americans only."
Like many Republicans in Ohio's U.S. Senate primary, Mandel has vocally opposed vaccination mandates and downplayed the importance of vaccines. He recently joined anti-vax protesters at an Cheesecake Factory in New York, more than 500 miles from the state he's campaigning to represent.
But it's unclear just where Mandel made the connection that vaccination mandates would racially segregate air travel.
He may be referring to data from earlier this summer that showed lagging vaccination rates in communities of color. However, compared to white Americans, these communities' vaccination rates generally correspond or even exceed their population share.
According to the latest data from the Kaiser Family Foundation:
"White people make up a smaller share of people who have received at least one dose (58%) and people who have recently received a vaccination (50%) compared to their share of the total population (61%). The same pattern is observed among Black people, who make up 10% of people who have received at least one dose and 11% of those recently vaccinated, compared to 12% of the population. In contrast, Hispanic people make up a larger share of vaccinated people (19%) and people who recently received a vaccination (23%) compared to their share of the total population (17%). The share of vaccinated people who are Asian is proportionate to their share of the total population (both 6%), while they make up a higher share (9%) of people initiating vaccination in the last 14 days."
The widest discrepancy between vaccination rate in proportion to population share is among white Americans, so even if this was what informed Mandel's premise, the Senate hopeful is still incorrect.
But mostly people were just confused.
Some found his comments patronizing and racist.
The Republican primary for Ohio's open seat in the U.S. Senate will be held in May of next year.