United Airlines Says Over 3000 Employees Now Have Covid, But That Vaccine Mandate Has Saved Lives

United Airlines says that 3000 of its employees currently have Covid-19. The real number is probably higher than this, since the airline probably knows relatively few asymptomatic cases and only a portion of subclinical ones. However CEO Scott Kirby believes that the airline’s vaccine mandate has already saved the lives of 8-10 of his employees, and not a single one of its employees is currently hospitalized for Covid.

The experience with Covid-19 infection at United is hardly atypical. They’re reporting less than 4% of their workforce currently infected. Even if it’s double that they still may be below the national average. One common estimate is 5% – 10% of the country currently infected but this seems quite conservative. For comparison, a simple (and therefore necessarily wrong) back of the envelope:

  • 7-day case average of 775,000
  • We may be catching only 1 in 10 cases (given asymptomatic, subclinical, and the number of people just testing at home that aren’t included)
  • Assuming average 5 day infectiousness period, that’s 38,750,000 currently infectious or 12% of the U.S. population

On a single day one-third of employees called out sick at Newark airport. But at one point perhaps over 20% of New York City residents were infected.

By the time we’re through the Ommicron wave we may see 40% of the population infected with this variant. Ultimately, though, while existing vaccines don’t do as good a job preventing infection against Omicron as against earlier variants (and the U.S. government de-prioritized variant-specific boosters, preferring to focus on boosting against the ancestral Wuhan strain), they do an amazing job at priming the immune system to fight and clear the virus.

You might think it’s misleading to say that the vaccine mandate has saved the lives of 8-10 employees, since a majority of people getting vaccinated would have done so anyway (as is the case nationally) but the comparison is to loss of life at the airline in an earlier period where many were already vaccinated. You might also think that loss of life would be lower anyway due to Omicron’s reduced virulence (for instance much shorter hospital stays) but most deaths in the last 8-10 weeks have been from Delta – so the vaccine mandate effectiveness comparison is to a period where deaths stem from the earlier variant.

The current expectation is that while prior infection with Delta doesn’t protect much more than 50% against Omicron, prior infection with Omicron should be more protective against Delta. The Omicron wave should lead to so much background immunity in the population, along with vaccination and boosters, that we exit the pandemic phase at least in the U.S. by the end of February.

Past strategies of using cloth masks probably help far less against Omicron, if you’re going to mask it should be with a higher quality mask. In some sense there’s a higher return to caution right now because of the short period in which you’d need to maintain it. And even though we do not yet have an Omicron-specific booster, the return to boosting is incredibly high and protects both against severe outcome and reduces the likelihood of infection and duration of infectiousness. Of course the pandemic has surprised us before.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Todd, first it was …the Vax is killing us! ….that was too easy to disprove…

    Then it was …wait a few months it will!! You’ll see!
    Again…never happened

    Now its…Just wait! One day you’re gonna drop like flies from the vax …

    Wing nuts believe wing nutty stuff ….

    So here’s one….Just wait !! One day you wont see!! We’re not gonna die from the vax!

    There a whole host of sciency reasons …go read about vaxes from stuff written before 2020 so you don’t have to worry about wing nutty covid stuff …and for God’s sake get your info from real medical sources

  2. @Dave – I’ve come to the conclusion Gary lets the trolls stay is because he enjoys the interaction. I’m also guessing it actually increases traffic, which means more bank affiliate and ad revenue. The better question is, why don’t the banks he does affiliate business with have a problem with it. Oh yeah… profit.

  3. Idiots who gaslight on vaccines aren’t good for traffic and ads. They just make themselves look like idiots. And while I’ll occasionally wade in to correct stupidity, I have neither the time nor inclination to waste on people uninterested in evidence around them and more inclined towards self-delusion.

  4. Todd,

    Like all good conspiracy theories, this…..Ok, it’s really not that good.

    You’re first presumption is that they “know” something. You tenuously linked two separate statements, like a wing-nut does.

    The data did/does support a booster and….. they were projecting if Covid continued how frequently boosters might be able to be given and where might be a point when it was too much…..risk / reward.

    It’s kinda like when Hydroxy first came to light, remember?
    Fauci said there was reason to believe it might be useful in treating Covid BUT, that it needed to be studied. Then some orangy-colored fella said IT’S GREAT! USE IT! and scientists scrambled to study it.
    The largest study on it came out and said NO! It’s dangerous. Within a day or so, Fauci came out to say there was a problem with that study and he didn’t trust the results. Within a week, the authors retracted the study and agreed, it was faulty.

    That didn’t mean it was safe, it isn’t for Covid, the problem was the methodology.

    Point is, scientists project based on their knowledge base then….. study to see if it bears out.

    Pay attention and you might learn something that Q won’t teach you.

  5. Go ahead, inject as much mRNA in your arm as you want.
    But those of us who chose to avoid a non-relevant booster shot AND STILL HAVEN’T CAUGHT COVID are just as healthy as you.

    The key to a healthy immune response to Covid is to be healthy BEFORE exposure. If you want to eat/drink crap every day and then rely on a booster to save you from your bad habits, good luck. Lol.

    Treat your body well, and you can avoid government-mandated health “treatments” which were lies from the very beginning. If your lazy ass can’t respect yourself, then you deserve to pay the piper. Yes, some of my acquaintances died from Covid (or WITH covid). And I know why they died. They died because they abused their bodies for decades.

    Treat your body right, or pay the piper. It’s such an easy choice.

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