COVID-19: Should vaccine be mandatory for airline workers?

One company is confident in the potency of the vaccine – others are not

COVID-19: Should vaccine be mandatory for airline workers?

Airline employees are classified as essential workers. However, like medical frontliners, they face a high risk of exposure to COVID-19 as they perform their job. Should airline companies therefore make COVID vaccinations mandatory for staff?

The answer is yes – if you ask United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby. The company is yet to formulate an official policy, but is reportedly “strongly considering” the move.

In a message to staff last week, Kirby announced United is coordinating with public health officials and healthcare specialists in securing and distributing the vaccine to more than 60,000 employees.

Read more: COVID-19 vaccination: Mandatory request or PR nightmare?

“For me, because I have confidence in the safety of the vaccine – and I recognise it’s controversial – I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory,” Kirby told employees in a town hall meeting Thursday.

To revive the industry badly hit by pandemic travel restrictions, the CEO believes it’s going to take the immunisation efforts of more than one company or industry.

“I don’t think United will get away with and can realistically be the only company that requires vaccines and makes them mandatory,” Kirby said, calling on other employers to “show leadership”.

Other US carriers, such as Delta and American Airlines, are encouraging – but not requiring – employees to get inoculated. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines is making the vaccine available for free, but hasn’t made it mandatory either.

Read more: Should CEOs be vaccinated before employees?

For the most part, employers are still working closely with officials on vaccine distribution.

“We do not plan to require our team members to receive the vaccine unless vaccinations are ultimately mandated for entry to certain destinations,” American said.

On the other hand, Delta is coordinating with all states to determine how its employees will be scheduled for immunisation.

In the retail sector, employers are getting creative in their approach to staff vaccination. Companies like Aldi, Trader Joe’s and Dollar General have offered to pay employees for their time spent queuing at immunisation clinics.

Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart – the largest employer in the US – believes the employer’s role is to “encourage [vaccination] and communicate facts and to set an example”.

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