Delta Air Lines said it would start charging unvaccinated employees enrolled in its healthcare plan an additional $200 a month, becoming the latest US company to cajole workers into having the Covid-19 jab.
The first fully-fledged approval of a vaccine this week by the US Food and Drug Administration, which gave a green light to the BioNTech/Pfizer jab, has prompted a string of American companies to introduce tougher rules on inoculations for staff.
Following the approval, Joe Biden urged business leaders to “require vaccinations” for employees, and several have complied with the US president’s request, including the investment bank Goldman Sachs, the accountancy firm Deloitte, and CVS Health, America’s largest operator of pharmacies.
Delta is the first major US company to introduce a surcharge, although it stopped short of introducing a vaccine mandate, a step taken by United Airlines and Amtrak.
Ed Bastian, Delta chief executive, said the airline had decided to impose the $200 monthly surcharge from November to insulate its healthcare plan against the “financial risk” of paying for employees sick with Covid-19.
In a memo to staff, seen by the Financial Times, Bastian said the average cost to Delta for an employee’s Covid-19 related hospitalisation was $40,000 a person, and that all of its infected workers in recent weeks were not fully vaccinated.
In addition, a mask mandate will go into effect immediately for unvaccinated Delta workers and, beginning on September 12, employees who are not fully vaccinated must submit to a weekly Covid-19 test.
Three-quarters of Delta employees are vaccinated, and Bastian said he wanted that number to rise to “as close to 100 per cent as possible”.
Following the FDA’s full approval of the BioNTech/Pfizer jab, “we can be confident that the . . . vaccine is safe and effective”, Bastian told staff. “The time for you to get vaccinated is now.”
Bastian said the monthly surcharge was being introduced in part because of the fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is now the dominant strain in the US. “Over the past few weeks, the fight has changed with the rise of the B.1.617.2 variant,” he said, pointing to the recent increase in hospitalisations and deaths in the US.
The chief executive added that from September 30, only fully-vaccinated Delta employees with a breakthrough infection would be eligible for Covid-19 pay protection while quarantining.
On Monday Goldman Sachs announced that all staff and clients entering its offices will have to provide proof of vaccination. All Goldman staff, regardless of vaccination status, will have to submit to weekly Covid-19 tests and wear masks in the office.
United Airlines, the first US carrier to impose a vaccine mandate, had told staff that they must be vaccinated within five weeks of the first full FDA approval of a jab.