Early last summer, United Airlines went hard and fast with their vaccine mandate, and the risky strategy is already starting to pay off.
Yes, United’s vaccine mandate failed to avoid a holiday travel crisis when hundreds of employees became ill with the extremely contagious Omicron strain, but that isn’t the only or most relevant metric of the mandate’s performance.
United CEO Scott Kirby announced on Tuesday that 3,000 employees had tested positive for COVID-19 and were now on sick leave. One-third of United’s staff phoned in sick in just one day at Newark recently. Clearly, the vaccine mandate hasn’t totally stemmed the spread of disease.
Hospitalizations and deaths, on the other hand, have been halted by vaccines. There isn’t a single one of the 3,000 employees who are now off work due to a positive test at the hospital.
“Since our vaccine policy went into effect, the hospitalization rate among our employees has been 100x lower than the general population in the U.S.,” Kirby wrote in an internal memo.
Prior to the vaccine obligation, Kirby claims that one United employee died of COVID-19 every week on average. The airline’s immunized staff has now gone eight weeks without a single COVID-related mortality.
Unlike some other airlines, United has taken a much stricter position against employees who claim religious or medical exemptions, and the business has even fired some employees who simply refused to get vaccinated.
Despite receiving backing from its flight attendant and pilot unions, United has encountered opposition from some places.
“While I know that some people still disagree with our policy, United is proving that requiring the vaccine is the right thing to do because it saves lives,” Kirby contested.
Rival airlines, such as American Airlines and Southwest, only issued vaccine mandates after being forced to do so by a federal mandate for government contractors.
Although the laws have increased vaccination rates among certain hesitant employees, neither airline has been able to get the support of their formidable pilot unions.
Faced with a pilot shortage, both American Airlines and Southwest have volunteered to accept religious and medical exemptions, and no employee will lose their job if they simply refuse to get vaccinated, pending the outcome of a lawsuit.