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United Airlines begins move to fire workers who refused COVID vaccine

Following the company's mandate, more than 99% of United Airlines employees -- tens of thousands of workers -- are vaccinated, United says.

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United Airlines has begun moving to dismiss workers who aren't vaccinated against COVID-19, the company said Tuesday. In a memo, United said more than 99% of its employees have received their coronavirus shots but that for the 593 employees who "chose not to comply" with its mandate (fewer than 1%), the company has "started the process to separate them from the company."

Employees who submitted a religious or medical accommodation for the vaccine mandate were given an extension "in light of a pending court case," the memo said. 

United was the first major airline to issue a vaccine mandate for employees, which it did in August. With the mandate in place, employees had to be vaccinated either by Oct. 25 or within five weeks of a COVID-19 vaccine receiving full approval by the US Food and Drug Administration. Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine was fully approved by the FDA on Aug. 23.

In the memo, from United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart, the company thanked the "tens of thousands" of employees who chose to get vaccinated, and acknowledged that for some it was a reluctant decision.

"But there's no doubt in our minds that some of you will have avoided a future hospital stay -- or even death -- because you got vaccinated," they wrote, citing the US daily-average death toll from COVID-19 of about 2,000 people per day

The news comes amid a wave of vaccine mandates across the nation, kicked off early this month when President Joe Biden signed an executive order mandating vaccines for federal employees and issued vaccine or frequent testing requirements for businesses with 100 or more employees

Read more: COVID vaccine mandate conflicts: Today's update, who requires proof of vaccination

Other mandates have been issued across the country, including some by private hospitals and businesses. On Monday, a North Carolina-based hospital system announced it was firing unvaccinated employees. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, anticipating a shortage of staff as the state starts enforcing its vaccine mandate for hospital employees, signed an executive order Monday that includes allowance for more workers to administer COVID-19 tests and vaccines, and also for health care workers from other states or countries to practice in New York. 

Delta, another US airline, opted not to issue vaccine requirements for employees, instead telling them they'd be charged more each month for their health insurance and citing the high medical costs the company pays for employees who end up hospitalized with COVID-19. Delta employees have until Nov. 1 to be fully vaccinated against COVID before a $200 monthly surcharge goes into effect.

Unvaccinated people are now over 10 times more likely to get hospitalized with COVID-19 and over 10 times more likely to die from the disease than fully vaccinated people, according to a September report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.