United Airlines comes out in favor of making vaccines mandatory for employees

Jan 22, 2021

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If United’s CEO has his way, all of the company’s employees will be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

In an internal town hall, first reported by CNBC and later confirmed by the carrier to TPG, Scott Kirby, United’s chief executive officer said of employees that “I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory.”

The vaccine comment comes as COVID-19 cases surge nationwide, amidst a slower-than-anticipated rollout of recently approved Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

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For one, Kirby’s comment doesn’t mean that vaccines are required just yet. However, the airline is working through some of the logistical challenges to implementing a mandatory COVID vaccine policy.

Some of the issues include state and local mandates on priority vaccine recipients, securing supply and setting up clinics at hub airports. Plus, the approved vaccines require two doses, spaced roughly three to four weeks apart. Flying crew through an airport within the booster period is another challenge for the airline.

In select jurisdictions, like New York, airline crew are already eligible to receive the vaccine. In others, like Florida, it’s currently limited to seniors aged 65 or older and front-line healthcare workers.

Notably, United wouldn’t require passengers to be vaccinated, at least not yet. Other airlines, like Qantas, have already said that flyers should expect a vaccine requirement to travel with the Sydney-based carrier.

It remains to be seen if other domestic airlines will follow United’s lead if — and when — it requires vaccines for employees.

Southwest Airlines recently said that it would “strongly encourage” employees to get the shots, but stopped short of saying it would be “mandatory”. The Dallas-based carrier plans to make the vaccine widely available to its employees for free once supply has increased.

Either way, Kirby would like to see other companies follow his lead. “I don’t think United will get away with and can realistically be the only company that requires vaccines and makes them mandatory. We need some others… Particularly in the healthcare industry,” he remarked.

Of course, it’ll take at least a few companies to get the dominoes to start falling. And then, “if others go along and are willing to start to mandate vaccines, you should probably expect United to be amongst the first wave of companies that do it.”

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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