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United CEO says vaccine mandate appears to have ended weekly deaths of employees from Covid

The company has “gone eight straight weeks with zero COVID-related deaths among our vaccinated employees,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a letter to staff.
Image: United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby joins fellow airline executives, union heads and politicians for a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol, on Sept. 22, 2020.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

A companywide vaccine mandate appears to have ended a grim weekly event at United Airlines — the death of an employee from Covid-19, the carrier’s top executive said Tuesday.

While there are 3,000 United workers now infected with the virus, "zero of our vaccinated employees are currently hospitalized," CEO Scott Kirby said in an open letter to the workforce.

The airline chief painted a stark picture of the deadly toll Covid-19 has taken on his company.

"Prior to our vaccine requirement, tragically, more than one United employee on average *per week* was dying from COVID," Kirby wrote.

"But we’ve now gone eight straight weeks with zero COVID-related deaths among our vaccinated employees — based on United’s prior experience and the nationwide data related to COVID fatalities among the unvaccinated, that means there are approximately 8-10 United employees who are alive today because of our vaccine requirement."

United now employees about 85,000 people, the company said. And back in August, it became the first U.S. carrier to require Covid-19 vaccinations for all domestic employees.

Kirby acknowledged that the vaccine mandate is not popular in some circles of his company, but he insisted "it's the right thing to do."

"In dealing with COVID, zero is the word that matters — zero deaths and zero hospitalizations for vaccinated employees," Kirby told employees.

"And 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."

The nation's recent struggle with the omicron surge wreaked havoc on airlines, especially during the heavy holiday travel period.

On one particular day during this spike, one-third of United employees at Newark Liberty International Airport called in sick, according to Kirby.

Lawyers for United workers suing over the vaccine mandate and union representatives of the carrier’s pilots and flight attendants could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

The Biden administration has been pushing for major companies, like United, to enforce vaccine mandates though it's unclear if those efforts will survive judicial review.

Still, the White House seized on Kirby's letter on Tuesday and held it up as an example of vaccine mandates working.

"That’s the difference. That’s vaccines. That’s a requirement," tweeted Ben Wakana, the deputy director of strategic communications & engagement for the White House’s Covid-19 response team.

About 71.5 percent of Americans, 12 and older, have received at least two shots of the Pfizer or Modern vaccine or one dose of the single-jab Johnson & Johnson, according to the latest CDC data.