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White House signals flexibility over Dec 8 COVID-19 vaccine deadline for businesses

White House signals flexibility over Dec 8 COVID-19 vaccine deadline for businesses

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients attends a meeting with President Joe Biden, business leaders and CEOs on the COVID-19 response in the library of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus in Washington, on Sep 15, 2021. (Photo: AP/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON: White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said on Wednesday the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccination deadline will not require immediate action on the part of employers against unvaccinated employees when it comes into force on Dec 8.

Zients said the same was true for a Nov 22 deadline for federal employees to get vaccinated. He said he expects federal agencies and contractors "will follow their standard HR processes and that for any of the probably relatively small percent of employees that are not in compliance they'll go through education, counselling, accommodations and then enforcement."

President Joe Biden issued a pair of executive orders on Sep 9 to require all executive branch federal employees and federal contractors be vaccinated.

Zients said does not expect any disruptions to the US economy as a result of the mandate.

"We’re creating flexibility within the system … There is not a cliff here," Zients said, emphasizing the goal is to get people vaccinated "not to punish them so we do not expect any disruptions."

He added: "These processes play out across weeks not days."

Zients comments were more explicit than those last week.

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines said last Thursday they did not think the Dec 8 deadline would impact holiday travel or result in employees leaving.

Some airlines and industry-watchers initially feared an exodus of unvaccinated airline or government employees involved in travel just before the Christmas season.

Southwest Airlines Chief Executive Gary Kelly said last week: "We want our employees to know that nobody is going to lose their job on Dec 9 if we're not perfectly in compliance ... We're not going to fire anybody who doesn't get vaccinated."

American Airlines Chief Executive Doug Parker said last week he did not expect any employees to leave as a result of the vaccine mandate.

"We think we're not going to see anyone leaving American," he said.

The Cargo Airline Association, a group representing FedExCorp, United Parcel Service Inc and other cargocarriers, said in letter to the White House last week it wouldbe virtually impossible to have 100 per cent of their respective workforces vaccinated by Dec 8.

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Source: Reuters/ec

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