How American Airlines – And Corporate America – Is Changing Its Tune On Vaccines

Early in the pandemic it was hard to imagine we’d have safe and effective vaccines against Covid-19 available in under 9 months. As vaccines progressed through their trials the FDA announced the bar for approval would be 50% effectiveness. Even something less, if that’s all biomedicine could muster, would have helped. After all the previous year’s flu vaccine hadn’t been quite 40% effective.

Now we’re incredibly fortunate to have a shot that is highly protective against both infection and severe disease, though the Pfizer shot does appear to wane in its effectiveness after about six months especially for older recipients (though remains quite effective against bad outcomes). So boosters may be needed, and perhaps initial dosing was spaced too close together.

With widespread community transmission, there are more breakthrough cases even among the vaccinated. It’s not just a personal choice whether to protect oneself, though, because vaccines reduce the chance of infection, and help people clear the virus more quickly when they do get infected. That means those who are vaccinated are less likely to spread to others.

Companies want their employees to be vaccinated,

  • It gives other employees confidence to return to office, since they’re less likely to be returning to an indoor environment where spread will be prevalent.

  • It reduces the chance that employees will get sick and reduce a company’s productivity – and reduce the chances of a superspreader event that takes out many employees.

Airlines have a real problem when employees call out sick, especially during peak times like holidays. So they want their employees to be vaccinated. United Airlines has been willing to say ‘no vaccine, no work.’ Delta Air Lines first said vaccines would be required for new hires, and then said existing employees who didn’t get vaccinated would face higher insurance co-pays and other measures.

So far American Airlines has stuck to incentives – time off for getting vaccinated and $50 worth of company scrip – but found that many simply wouldn’t do it. Reading employee message boards there’s a lot of vaccine hesitancy, skepticism, and anger.

Now, however, President Biden has declared that everyone in the country he can plausibly pressure into getting vaccinated will need to do so. He clearly has power to impose vaccination on the military, as well as federal employees. The ‘government as employer’ has the power to do things, in most cases, that other employers can do – even if they can’t do so as the government.

Things get more complicated looking at the rest of the President’s orders. Threatening federal funding for health care facilities that don’t impsoe vaccination requirements is tricky. President Trump tried to impose new conditions on federal funding as pressure against sanctuary cities, and the courts didn’t go along. However by addressing funding for individual facilities rather than all of a jurisdiction’s health care budgets the courts may not find this a sufficiently burdensome new condition to be problematic.

The hardest case is mandates on employers with 100 or more employees. The OSHA statute provides for an emergency rulemaking, but courts have always held those to a high standard. And it stretches the statute to require vaccination to address general hazards (non-delegation issues to read authorities so broadly) and viruses aren’t exactly the sort of toxic conditions clearly spelled out in the agency’s authorizing legislation (are viruses ‘substances or agents’?). Stretching the CDC’s authorities didn’t work out at the Supreme Court for the eviction moratorium, though this doesn’t quite stretch the statute as far as the eviction order did.

Is there a ‘grave danger’ and not merely a ‘significant risk’ (when most workers are already vaccinated) and is this rule ‘necessary’ rather than just ‘reasonably necessary’ to justify the emergency rulemaking? The necessary rulemaking has to be to protect workers themselves and not limit broader spread in the community to be legal.

There are certainly going to be legal challenges to the employer mandate, but a lot of employers are just looking for cover to require vaccination.

  • They can blame the federal government
  • And employees – in a tight labor market – won’t have as many options to go somewhere else, since other large employers will require vaccination too.

We’re already seeing this play out. Here’s the message that American Airlines sent to employees. They aren’t really reserving judgment on what to do pending an actual rulemaking from OSHA, let alone seeing whether the courts uphold or enjoin the regulation. They’re letting employees know to expect to be required to get a jab.

By the way Aemrican’s decision to extend the deadline for employees to take them up on vaccine incentives was made prior to the President’s announcement.

In a sense this is what the Biden administration is looking for. It may not even matter whether an OSHA rulemaking is legal or not. A lot of employers will impose vaccination requirements, and that will drive up vaccination rates (even if some employees leave their jobs, for other employers or to wait out the pandemic). The federal government clearly lacks the authority to require everyone to get vaccinated, even if the states do – don’t cite Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), that’s about a state’s general police powers which the federal government lacks.

The administration’s goals are for more vaccination, and that may happen even if some elements of their plan are ultimately overturned later. Although there are real worries that mandate, rather than framing vaccines as a way back to normal life, may backfire with anti-vaxxers digging in see ‘proof’ that vaccines and masks are ‘about social control.’

This isn’t really a world I’m comfortable in, where the Executive writes it’s own powers without the legislature’s involvement even. That’s true regardless of which party is in power. But it’s the direction we’ve been heading in for some time, really accelerated during the Bush administration after 9/11.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “Reading employee message boards there’s a lot of vaccine hesitancy, skepticism, and anger.”

    And misinformation I should imagine.

  2. I don’t like that it has come to this either, but in a world where people ignore science and put others at risk I don’t how else to get through to them. It’s a bit like the people who won’t let their kids get MMR shots thanks to crackpot reports and then don’t feel responsible when other children have these preventable diseases passed on to them. That’s criminal negligence and this isn’t really any different. If someone wants to live in a crowded society without the benefit of disease preventive medicine they’re welcome to do that…but not in my country.

  3. Maybe the problem here is that our government doesn’t have the courage to tell us that there’s no magic bullet, but instead prefers to mandate modestly effective measures. COVID-19 is endemic, and the deaths will only really stop after some combination of population exposure and viral mutation that favors transmissibility over lethality. Modest pickups in vaccination won’t move the needle, as vaccine effectiveness is fading over time and the most susceptible groups are already highly vaccinated.

  4. @drrichard – I would actually argue they’re NOT welcome to do that. Public health is exactly the kind of function that the framers intended for governments to have (albeit, I’m intentionally ignoring the federal/state distinction here). We already have the important caveats for religious and “philosophical” exemptions, with attendant bureaucracy that makes it easier to get the shot than to get an exemption.

    Vaccine mandates are one of the very few tools that could allow us to resume “normal” life. Why anyone would oppose that is beyond me. Do they love masks? Perhaps they enjoy every painful breath of a COVID infection! Perhaps they’re thrill seekers looking for a new take on Russian Roulette. Or maybe, just maybe, it has nothing to do with science or policy, and everything to do with the party pushing it…

  5. This current administration has proven that they are willing to demand compliance and then have the courts block their actions. We’ll see what they are allowed to do. The Supreme Court has consistently said these types of sweeping mandates have to be imposed by Congress.

  6. Big problem when the Feds mandate vaccines, and make big, sweeping exceptions: Postal service workers. Members of Congress. Congressional staffs.
    If SCIENCE dictates masks and vaccines, ALL people should follow the same rules to protect themselves and others, right?
    How can some groups (especially postal workers who come in contact with millions of people every day) be exempt, for their own good and safety? What germs and viruses are they passing on? What is the “science” that allows some groups to avoid the rules?
    There isn’t any “science.” The lack of consistency and underhandedness makes people skeptical about whatever the Feds are pushing.

  7. Pretty sure NOT taking a vaccine is NOT a choice.
    Saying someone chooses to be unvaccinated is like telling someone you choose to have 2 legs. We are all born unvaccinated, therefore the only choice is to be vaccinated.
    Please stop using the phrase “choose to be unvaccinated”. It’s discriminating and disinformation.
    I’ve chosen to protect myself and be vaccinated, but am not scared of the unvaccinated because as @drrichard says, I trust the science.
    Demanding someone else to inject something else in to their body is just authoritarian thinking. LOTS of ways to pretty much move your risk level to zero at this point without worrying about what others do.

  8. Shouldn’t flight crews be excluded from vaccines since cabin air is so safe. That’s what they sold us all on last March.

  9. @DaninMCI – Do flight crews live on planes? Or do they sometimes leave the airplane like the rest of us.

  10. @drrichard – How do you know they are ignoring science? There is also science that says antibodies from a recovered covid infection is just as effective, or even better in some cases, than receiving the covid vaccine. And this isn’t from some crackpot right wing conspiracy group. These are from the Cleveland Clinic and also Maccabi Healthcare Services in Israel. Perhaps they are following that science instead.

  11. Silvia, the USPS fall under the 100 or more group so either they are tested weekly or get the vaccine.

    Postal workers will have a choice between getting the vaccine and getting tested for COVID-19 once a week, a Biden administration official clarified, subjecting those workers to the rules being imposed on business of 100 employees or more, as opposed to the rules for federal employees.

    “USPS is not included in the executive order requiring vaccination of Federal employees. USPS has a separate statutory scheme and is traditionally independent of federal personnel actions like this,” a Biden administration official said.

  12. The old timers accepted reduced sugar and butter rations and no chance to buy a new car for years to win WWII. Appalling that so called “adults” can’t be bothered to take two shots and two days off work to protect their elders and immuno-compromised colleagues

  13. Employers like American may not care all that much about their customers, but they do prefer to see their employees healthy and on the job than in ICUs and dead.

    Cajoling, pleading, appealing to reason, science or self-preservation didn’t work well. We have to stop the COVID catastrophe and the only way to do that is by getting people vaccinated, or as a last resort firmly preventing the unvaccinated from engaging in activities where they are going to spread it. It’s not just that they are dying;’ they are filling up ICUs so that other people who need emergency treatment are getting crowded out, and health care workers are forced into endless shifts of work. 63% of those of us who are eligible are fully vaccinated. We can no longer let the minority have their way and prolong the disaster. Get rid of the four deadly words “regardless of vaccination status,” and replace them with, “proof of vaccination required.”

  14. I think the issue is more fundamental to freedom because it is clear in commonly available information that these vaccines alone are not enough to prevent viral transmission otherwise the CDC would not be recommending masks regardless of vaccination status. If the vaccines were so effective, we wouldn’t be seeing notable percentages of vaccinated persons showing up sick. The case in MA where the Cape Cod outbreak was represented by well more than 50% vaccinated individuals should make it clear we are we we have always been with the flue.

    It is clear that while many years flue deaths were substantial, this virus has been worse. But, we have not considered forcing people to take a medical treatment in the past in the manner being done now. Sure there may have been some camps or schools you could not go to without all your childhood disease vaccines but nobody threatened the very ability of individuals to work…period, hard stop anywhere unless the company has less than 100 employees and then who stops such an out of control government from
    Changing that to any employment.

    One has to step back and think why? Why is this kind of draconian step not taken for other disease vaccinations? Why have we not been asked to attest to our vaccination for polio before being able to eat out in NYC all these years? Why hasn’t there always been a vaccination requirement to fly? Why are the current requirements lacking exceptions for those who do not wish to be vaccinated for legitimate reasons? Well it is all about control and paranoia on the part of people whom demand for these rules to be applied, not because without them these paranoid people are really in danger….I mean if they are vaccinated and their precious vaccine is worth its salt they are safe right?

    Paranoid people without any thought have no problem controlling others because the very definition of their paranoia is that someone else is to blame for the perceived danger to themselves. They don’t take any blame at all for their lack of a healthy immune system, or the serious health conditions that also make them more vulnerable to the effects of the virus. It is important that we each take control over our own health and yes take care to protect others but the solutions vary from person to person and blindly insisting that there is a.magic pill in vaccines that will set everything right will disappoint. What’s more, in the process the damage to freedom and the division in our country that these mandates will and are creating will do far more damage that won’t go away anytime soon. Once people start saying they’ve run out of patience with their neighbors and now insist they don’t your way, your attitude is heading for a heap of trouble and I feel we are only beginning to see the pushback. However, what will to be forgotten is how some of you out there treated your fellow citizen’s freedoms with utter disdain.

  15. In a civilized society you can’t go around posing an imminent threat to yourself and others. Get vaccinated.

  16. I have worked all over the world and taken MANY vaccines, but they are good for life, just like the ones I got in the military. Have not had an annual flu shot since 1980 and have managed to survive. Even had this latest version of covid, and survived.
    This silliness will all pass when the travel industry tires of loosing money and pressures their respective governments to calm down.

  17. @Aaron, That’s a total red herring. The science also quite clearly shows that the vaccine still adds protection to people who have had a previous infection. Vaccine is better than no vaccine regardless of whether someone has gotten COVID-19 or not. The science also shows that the vaccines are incredibly safe. There are extremely few science-based reasons anybody should even consider foregoing vaccination.

  18. @John Galt… really? your TDAP vaccine is good for life? You got a special version of it that nobody else gets?

  19. “Early in the pandemic it was hard to imagine we’d have safe and effective vaccines against Covid-19 available in under 9 months.”

    Yeah, because it didn’t happen. Have you looked at the data?

  20. @James N, the data is extremely clear that the vaccines are safe and effective. If you’re seeing data that suggests otherwise, you’re looking at either manipulated fake data or data that is presented in an extremely misleading way. There is no legitimate data which shows anything other than the fact that the vaccines are extremely safe and effective at preventing severe illness and death. There is also very clear evidence that the vaccines reduce the chances of any infection as well as the spread.

    The vaccines are not perfect. No vaccine in history has ever been. If you believe an effective vaccine cannot have breakthrough cases then you are living in a delusion.

  21. -Vaccines provide some protection against serious decease and death
    -Vaccines have real side effects such as myocarditis, paralysis and blood clotting problems. Rare but not significant
    -Vaccines also have very limited time in use and long term effects are not well understood and if anything are mostly negative.
    -Asymptomatic transmission is close to zero
    -Most transmission occurs within households when one member is symptomatic and then spreads when members go outside to seek treatment or services
    -Testing absent symptoms is futile with the level of false positives and lack of asymptomatic spread
    -Ambulatory (at home) treatment early in the disease course with multi drug cocktail doctor prescribed (yes all those controversial drugs that have been the playbook prior to 2020) keeps people from progressing to severe disease unless very old or chronically ill before COVID
    -Mask up when sick, mask up when you are in particularly close quarters like a bathroom, elevator or interacting face to face
    -if you are asymptomatic you should mask up in airports and boarding areas and be able to unmask at 10,000 feet. But whatever, I’m not going there. Happy to mask up on a plane for Grandma
    -Symptomatic stay at home
    -Maybe nobody remembers or was unaware but pre-2020 I would say that 20%-30% of service workers in the winter months were sick as a dog. Waiters, cooks, taxi drivers, hotel employees, flight attendants, office workers , etc. all working sick. Ahh the good old days.
    -Live your life and stop imposing YOUR views on others. Vax if you want.
    -Other vaccines with requirements have been tested for decades and risks are known and disclosed. This one has no such data. It cannot be placed in the same category as MMR, Smallpox, etc.
    -Fight tyranny and censorship
    -Be free Be happy

  22. @James N – I have. The safety profile of mRNA vaccines is outstanding and far better than that of many vaccines that have received full approval in the past. And the efficacy is very good against infection even just after the initial dosing and six months have elapsed, while still being outstanding against severe disease. We also know that a booster dramatically increases antibodies that neutralize the virus. So what’s your problem?

  23. @Scott, Those controversial drugs have not once been shown to be effective in any legitimate peer-reviewed study–or even in any studies that would be eligible for serious peer review. When used in proper control studies, they provide no benefit. Anybody prescribing them for off-label use with COVID is a borderline (or full) quack, plain and simple.

    >-Maybe nobody remembers or was unaware but pre-2020 I would say that 20%-30% of service workers in the winter months were sick as a dog. Waiters, cooks, taxi drivers, hotel employees, flight attendants, office workers , etc. all working sick. Ahh the good old days.

    Ah, yes, the good ole days, when hospital ICUs weren’t full to capacity and people weren’t dying from heart disease and other things because there wasn’t an ICU bed available within 300 miles.

    Get vaccinated. The “personal choice” thing is true to an extent, but decency requires individuals make the right choice in this case. The right choice is to get vaccinated. We have somehow lost all sense of decency.

  24. @James N
    Plenty of people have looked at the data. Of course their are plenty of people, such as yourself, get the wrong data to construe their biased opinions on others and then beat their chest as if they are always right. In this case, Covid righteousness only works for Chumps like yourself!!!’

  25. @Scott I pulled up two of the studies cited on that page very quickly and both concluded that there was no effect from the drug under study. At best they say, “it couldn’t hurt.”

    So, yeah, I am still going to stand by my earlier comment.

  26. @autolycus

    Aaah, excuse me. The references aren’t cited as proof they are cited as being included in the interview. Just like you and your primary news source, CNN, the context is completely missing from your thought process. For instance, the fraudulent Lancet publication was retracted and caused countless deaths as a result of its initial publishing. It is included not because it supports the use of Hydroxychloroquine, it is included specifically because it is part of the fraud perpetrated against the world.

    Watch the interview.

    You are a disgrace, probably CCP quite honestly.

  27. @Scott Your last comment is full of some pretty hilariously wrong assumptions and projections about me, but thanks for trying.

  28. @Gary… You’re delusional! The evidence is clear the experimental gene therapies are an abject failure and that includes the safety profile. The fact that they’ve caused more deaths and serious adverse reactions than all other “vaccines” combined during the past 30 years is undisputed and confirmed by VAERS. Your statement that they’re “… far better than that of many vaccines that have received full approval in the past.”, is an outright lie and demonstrates you haven’t done the research. Your comments are embarrassing!

  29. @Gary. Regarding the safety profiles of Covid Vaccines you have mentioned that we’re developed at “Warp Speed.”
    The Influenza vaccines took fifteen (15) years of trials before receiving approval in the US. That vaccine has the distinction of having had the shortest time period for full approval for a major disease.
    Small Pox vaccine took 154 years to develop and had a 30% mortality rate during development.
    And Pfizer and Moderna trials lasted nine months.
    BTW, no vaccinated mothers that conceived after being fully vaccinated have given birth . . . yet.

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