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United requires Covid vaccinations for its 67,000 US workers

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United Airlines pilot Steve Lindland receives COVID-19 vaccine from RN Sandra Manella at the United on-site clinic at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois on March 9, 2021.

Scott Olson | Getty Images

United Airlines will require its 67,000 US employees to be vaccinated against Covid by October 25th or risk being fired, a first for major US airlines that is likely to put pressure on rivals.

Airlines, including United, have so far opposed vaccine mandates for all workers and instead offered incentives such as additional pay or time off for vaccination. Delta Air Lines started asking newly hired employees to provide proof of vaccination in May. United followed suit in June.

United’s requirement is one of the strictest vaccination regulations of any US company and involves employees who regularly interact with customers such as flight attendants and gate agents.

US companies like Facebook announced that employees would provide evidence that they were vaccinated in order to return to the office. Others only ask for it for certain employees. Walmart, for example, said last week that it will be required for corporate and executive level employees. Uber said the U.S. office staff must be vaccinated to return to the office, but they no longer needed them as drivers.

Meatpacker Tyson Foods said this week that its 120,000 U.S. employees will need to be fully vaccinated this year, when that is already more than 50,000.

“We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees,” United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart said in an employee note Friday. “But we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated.”

United Airlines employees must upload proof that they have received two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, five weeks after full approval by federal officials or by October 25, whichever comes first have received. Exceptions are made for specific health or religious reasons, United said.

Many of United’s employees have already reported they have been vaccinated, such as around 90% of pilots and 80% of flight attendants, company officials said.

United didn’t say what the company’s overall vaccination rate is.

The decision was driven in part by concerns about a spike in Covid-19 cases over the past fall and winter, company officials said.

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