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Southwest becomes latest airline to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees

October 6, 2021, 1:33 AM UTC

Southwest Airlines on Monday became the latest major U.S. airline to require its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Dallas-based carrier announced that its roughly 54,000 employees must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8 to continue working for the airline. The company said employees with religious, medical, or disability accommodations can seek exemptions.

“Southwest Airlines must join our industry peers in complying with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination directive,” Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines Chairman and CEO, said in a press release. “I encourage all Southwest employees to meet the federal directive, as quickly as possible, since we value every individual and want to ensure job security for all.”

Southwest cited new rules announced by the Biden administration last month—which require employees of companies with federal contracts to be vaccinated by Dec. 8—as the reasoning for issuing the vaccine mandate. Southwest, like other major airlines, qualifies as a federal contractor because it transports government employees and members of the military, among other services.

Last week, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Alaska Airlines all announced they would require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 due to their own status as federal contractors.

United Airlines became the first carrier to issue such a mandate back in August, when it announced that its 67,000 U.S. employees must be vaccinated to continue working. As of the end of last week, only 320 United employees were facing termination for failing to comply with the vaccine mandate by the end of September deadline, according to the company. Some 2,000 United employees have sought exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

The five airlines that issued vaccine mandates together employ roughly 263,000 workers.

Delta Air Lines is now the only major U.S. carrier that hasn’t yet required employees to get their COVID-19 jabs. The Atlanta-based airline has instead opted to penalize unvaccinated employees with a monthly $200 health insurance surcharge beginning in November, in addition to requiring those workers to get tested weekly for COVID-19 and to continue to wear masks. According to the company, 84% of its workforce has already been vaccinated.

Delta, also a federal contractor, said Monday that it was still reviewing the administration’s executive order.

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