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Report: US to require vaccines for cross-border foreign truckers starting Jan. 22

Biden administration sticks to COVID-19 mandate amid fears that large numbers of Canadian, Mexican drivers will drop out of cross-border freight

It's unclear how many cross-border truckers will remain unvaccinated when the U.S. vaccine mandate take effect. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Truck drivers from Canada and Mexico will be barred from crossing the U.S. border as of Jan. 22 unless they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday, citing a senior Biden administration official.  

While the vaccination requirement — applying to all nonresident essential travelers — had been announced in October, the U.S. had held off on setting an official date. Trucking industry groups have been pushing for a delay out of fears large numbers of unvaccinated truckers will stop moving cross-border freight.

The Biden administration had initially exempted essential workers from a vaccine mandate on foreign travelers, which took effect Nov. 8. The Department of Homeland Security had said the mandate for essential workers would come in early January. The new date pushes it back by two to three weeks. 

Less than 50% of Mexicans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while among Canadians the rate is nearly 80%, according to data from Oxford University. If those rates hold up among truckers, industry leaders say the results could be catastrophic for cross-border supply chains.

“The reality is we’re playing a game of high-stakes chicken with the situation the supply chain is in right now,” Steve Laskowski, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, told FreightWaves earlier this month. 

The CTA estimates that over 20%, or 22,000, of Canadian drivers could stop crossing the border because of the mandate. The CTA projects that another 16,000 U.S. drivers follow suit when a similar Canadian mandate takes effect in January.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents drivers in the US and Canada, pushed back against the mandate, calling the decision to get vaccinated a “personal choice.”

“Throughout the pandemic, essential workers like professional truckers have continued operating safely back and forth across the Canadian border to ensure North Americans have the food and supplies they need,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer said in a statement. “Drivers have done so without having to disclose their personal health history. We have seen all too often how unnecessary government mandates can force experienced owner-operators and independent truckers out of business. These requirements are another example of how impractical regulations will send safe drivers off the road.”

It’s not clear how much of a disruption the vaccine mandate will have on cross-border trucking with Mexico.

Ernesto Gaytán Jr., general manager of Laredo, Texas-based Super Transport International, said Biden’s mandate could be a “huge issue” for the border trade community.

However, Mexican trucking companies are not allowed to operate in the U.S. When freight is trucked from Mexico to the U.S., it is brought to the border by Mexican truckers and usually switched to a U.S. truck for the final leg of the journey.

Trucks typically haul over $700 billion worth of freight between the U.S., Canada and Mexico each year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That number is on track to jump significantly in 2021 as pandemic restrictions have eased, and consumer demand has remained high. 

Matt Silver, founder and CEO of cross-border logistics technology firm Forager, said while he agrees with the premise of improving COVID-19 vaccination rates, the mandate could reduce trucking capacity

“Requiring truck drivers crossing the border to be vaccinated is going to affect capacity because we know not everyone is willing to be vaccinated and access to vaccines in Mexico is more limited than in the U.S.,” Silver said.

But Silver said the effects may less severe than feared.

“I believe Canada has been a lot better about vaccination and I have a feeling more of the drivers from Canada are vaccinated than you’d think, and there’s only so many B1 drivers who cross from Mexico into the U.S., meaning this might not be as big of an impact as everyone will make it out to be.”

FreightWaves reporter Noi Mahoney contributed to this report. 

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Nate Tabak

Nate Tabak is a Toronto-based journalist and producer who covers cybersecurity and cross-border trucking and logistics for FreightWaves. He spent seven years reporting stories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a reporter, producer and editor based in Kosovo. He previously worked at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Jose Mercury News. He graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied the history of American policing. Contact Nate at [email protected]