United has become the first U.S. airline to tell all U.S.-based employees they must get vaccinated for Covid-19.
The mandate will take effect either Oct. 25 or five weeks after the FDA gives its first nonemergency approval of a Covid-19 vaccine, whichever date comes first.
“We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees. But, we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated,” United CEO Scott Kirby and president Brett Hart wrote in a memo to employees Friday.
“Over the last 16 months, Scott has sent dozens of condolences letters to the family members of United employees who have died from Covid-19. We’re determined to do everything we can to try to keep another United employee from receiving that letter.”
United has 67,000 U.S.-based employees. The carrier said it will have a “very narrow” accommodation process for religious and medical exemptions. Otherwise, employees who do not comply with the mandate will be let go.
United’s decision has come as the more contagious delta variant has ballooned the U.S. seven-day average of new Covid-19 cases to more than 66,000 per day, according to the CDC, up from a low in mid-June of less than 9,000. The seven-day average daily death total now stands at 296, up 33% in a week.
Among the U.S. population that is eligible for the vaccine (those 12 and older), 57.7% are fully vaccinated. Of those ages 18 and older, 60.3% are vaccinated.
United joins other major U.S. corporations — including Disney, Google and Tyson Foods — that have said they will require employee vaccinations.
The United move has likely been long in the works. The airline has required all new hires to be vaccinated since early June. And as far back as January, Kirby stated his desire to require vaccinations for its staff.
Delta Air Lines in May said it would require new hires to be vaccinated.
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