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Delta Air Lines has become the latest American company to mandate the coronavirus vaccine as the airline told unvaccinated employees they will have to pay an additional $200 per month for their company-sponsored healthcare plan.
Chief Executive Ed Bastian said in a staff memo that the monthly surcharge would take effect on November 1.
Adding a surcharge to health insurance contributions is the latest tactic being used by employers to protect their operations from the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
The announcement came on Wednesday - two days after President Biden told companies to start mandating vaccines in a speech celebrating the FDA's decision to grant full approval to the Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, a certification that public health officials hope will convince unvaccinated Americans that the shot is safe and effective.
The airline's memo comes as Goldman Sachs mandated vaccines for its employees and this morning the Pentagon confirmed that US military troops must get jabbed.
Delta Air Lines has become the latest American company to mandate the coronavirus vaccine as the airline told unvaccinated employees they will have to pay an additional $200 per month for their company-sponsored healthcare plan
Biden's calls for all companies to make their requirements stricter is likely to face calls of federal government overreach and legal challenges.
States including Florida and Texas have already fought back against vaccine mandates and believe it is a personal choice to get the shot.
In the Delta Air Lines memo, Bastian said the surcharge is necessary to address the financial risk the Atlanta-based airline faces from the decision to not vaccinate. The average hospital stay for COVID-19 has cost the company $50,000 per person, he said.
Major companies like Delta competitor United Airlines, Amtrak, Walt Disney and Walmart have already required their workers to be immunized and the Pentagon have said they will mandate all troops.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo on Wednesday that military troops must immediately begin to get the vaccine while ordering service leaders to 'impose ambitious timelines for implementation.'
More than 800,000 service members have yet to get their shots, according to Pentagon data. And now that the Pfizer vaccine has received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the Defense Department is adding it to the list of required shots troops must get as part of their military service.
The memo, which was obtained by The Associated Press, does not dictate a specific timeline for completing the vaccinations. But it says the military services will have to report regularly on their progress.
A senior defense official said that Austin has made it clear to the services that he expects them to move quickly, and that this will be completed in weeks not months.
A day after Biden's speech urging companies to enforce vaccine mandates, Goldman Sachs Group Inc told employees that from Tuesday anyone entering its offices in the United States must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The bank will also require that masks be worn in offices regardless of vaccination status from Wednesday, while fully vaccinated employees will receive weekly COVID-19 tests starting on September 7, according to an internal memo.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc told employees that from Tuesday anyone entering its offices in the United States must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters. This file photo shows the headquarters of Goldman Sachs in New York City
In June, Goldman was one of the earliest Wall Street banks to require that most employees return to offices, and the vaccine mandate is part of the effort to continue working at offices safely amid a resurgence in COVID cases.
Goldman's new policy is in line with rival banks Morgan Stanley and Citigroup Inc, which also require vaccines at their U.S. headquarters.
Three of the four largest U.S. banks - JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo - do not require vaccines for individuals at their offices.
Bank of America has asked that only vaccinated employees come into its offices when it begins formally welcoming people back in September.
COVID-19 infections are increasing in the United States at an average of about 150,000 cases a day, and are currently at 60% of the peak level of new daily infections reported in January, according to Reuters tracking data.
Goldman Sachs will also require that masks be worn in offices regardless of vaccination status from Wednesday, while fully vaccinated employees will receive weekly COVID-19 tests starting on Sept. 7, the memo said
Biden, speaking at the White House on Monday, portrayed the FDA's full approval of Pfizer's shot as a huge victory even though it will be of limited practical value months after the vaccination received emergency approval.
Even so, he spoke directly to what he said were 'millions' of Americans who may have been waiting for full approval before trusting the jab - even though the shots have been going in arms since December 2020.
'It has now happened,' Biden said. 'The moment you've been waiting for is here. It's time for you go get your vaccine. Get it today.'
He pointed to a pickup in the pace of vaccinations amid a spike in hospitalizations and deaths among the unvaccinated.
'The FDA approval is the gold standard,' Biden said, amid information showing about a third of eligible Americans have declined to get the vaccine.
Dorit Reiss, a professor of law at UC Hastings College of the Law, told CNBC that firms may have felt wary of implementing full vaccine mandates until the shot got approval, even though they had the legal authority.
Brett Coburn, who is an employment lawyer in Atlanta, told NPR News that the FDA approval for Pfizer will mean more companies will turn to vaccine mandates.
A lot of employers were initially reluctant to impose the requirements for fear they may drive their staff away, but Coburn said companies are now thinking people may quit if there are no vaccine mandates.
He said: 'I think a lot of companies have just gotten to the point where they've said enough's enough. There are a lot of people who will feel much more comfortable coming back to work in a workplace where vaccines are required.
A recent poll by USA Today found that 61 per cent of Americans endorsed vaccine requirements except for those with a medical or religious exemption for the greater good.
'I think everybody should be able to make their own decision as long as they're not hurting someone else,' said Donna Sharp, 54, from Wynne, Arkansas, who took part in the poll. 'But in the case of this, with the vaccine, in a way you are hurting other people if you don't get it and you spread it.'
But that view is not universal. Nearly one in five said they had not been vaccinated and would not be getting jabbed soon.
'I think the mandates and requirements are against our rights as being U.S. citizens,' said Carlie Wright, 30, from Logan, Utah, who has refused to get a vaccine or wear a mask. 'We shouldn't have government to control our lives and tell us what they can and can't do.'
Joe Biden urged Americans to get vaccinated amid FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine
Biden used his speech to urge private companies to issue vaccination mandates for staff.
'As I mentioned before, I've imposed vaccination requirements that will reach millions of Americans,' Biden said.
'Today I'm calling on more companies... in the private sector to step up with vaccine requirements that will reach millions more people.
'If you're a business leader, a nonprofit leader, state or local leader, who has been waiting for FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call on you now to do that, require it.'
The administration already requires federal employees and onsite contractors to attest that they are vaccinated or if they are unvaccinated to submit to regular testing.
Biden spoke soon after the Pentagon announced it would press ahead with moves to order personnel to be vaccinated following full approval of the Pfizer shot.
'We're going to move forward making that vaccine mandatory, we're preparing the guidance for the force right now,' he said during a news briefing.
Earlier, the FDA granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine for those aged 16 and older on Monday. The two-dose regimen was the first to receive emergency use authorization from federal regulators in December 2020 and will now be first to be licensed.
Pfizer said on Monday the vaccine will continue to be available for 12-to-15-year-olds and as third doses for immunocompromised people under emergency use only.
On Monday, New York City's mayor Bill de Blasio said every staff member at the city's public schools will need to be vaccinated by the end of September with no option for weekly testing.
De Blasio said that every department of education employee must receive at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by September 27, as the city escalates attempts to slow the spread of the hyper-contagious Delta variant.
'We know this is going to help to ensure that everyone is safe,' he told reporters.