Delta to require COVID-19 vaccine for all new hires

Delta Air Lines said this week it would require all new employees in the U.S. to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

The Atlanta-based airline company said on Friday that vaccines are the "best tool" to protect people and help end the pandemic.

"Delta people have made great progress to achieve herd immunity within our workforce, with more than 60% of employees already vaccinated," Delta Air Lines spokesperson Morgan Durrant said in an email to FOX Business. "To help us maintain this trajectory, Delta will require all new hires in the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they qualify for an accommodation, effective Monday, May 17."

Durrant said it was an "important move to protect our people and our customers" and ensured the organization could "safely operate as demand returns."

However, he noted, Delta will not be implementing a companywide mandate to require current employees to be vaccinated.

"Approximately two out of 10 Americans have been infected by COVID-19 and one out of 1,000 Americans has died. The vaccines are not only extremely effective in preventing illness and symptoms from COVID-19, they’re nearly 100% effective in preventing hospitalization and death," Durrant added. "Vaccines are safe, effective and essential to our future."

Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that companies could legally mandate employees and new hires be vaccinated, barring any disability or religious-related accommodations.

Other airlines have not taken such a hardline stance on the issue.

American Airlines is giving employees who get vaccinated an extra vacation day in 2020 and $50 in the company's recognition points.

In January, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby voiced his support for mandatory vaccinations in a video forum with employees but said the company could not "realistically be the only company" to follow through.

This announcement comes on the heels of updated guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on mask-wearing, which was met Thursday with mixed reaction.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks while indoors or outdoors or physically distance at large or small gatherings.

Fully vaccinated individuals are still advised to wear masks while in crowded indoor settings such as while on public transportation – including air travel – and in hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.

Durrant told FOX Business that the airline will continue to require mask-wearing, noting the separate federal mandate that extends through September across all transportation networks throughout the country.