WASHINGTON - With most airline agencies and businesses now requiring coronavirus vaccines among their staff, the White House COVID-19 task force says this will not impact the upcoming holiday travel season, which is expected to be the biggest travel surge of the past two years.
"Vaccination requirements will not impact holiday travel," Jeffrey Zients, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said Wednesday.
Businesses are increasingly mandating that their workers get a COVID-19 vaccine, citing health concerns and sweeping new federal requirements for large employers. Those who do not follow company policies are in many cases subject to termination of employment.
Federal workers have until Nov. 22nd to become fully vaccinated, and federal contractors have until Dec. 8.
Zients noted that many federal contractors have already stepped up to require vaccination, including most of the major airlines.
"And as with any deadline, we expect to see an increase in compliance toward the end of that deadline as we approach the deadline," Zients continued.
For those that do not comply with the deadline, Zients said the first step is "a period of education and counseling" rather than immediate termination.
"It's important to remember that this is a process, and the point here is to get people vaccinated, not to punish them. So, agencies will not be removing employees from federal service until after they've gone through a process of education and counseling," Zients said. "So, the bottom line is this: The requirements for federal workers and contractors will not cause disruptions to government services that people depend on. Agencies have the flexibility necessary to enforce the mandate without impacting critical operations."
Multiple companies and organizations including United Airlines, have or intend to fire unvaccinated workers.
As of Oct. 8, more than 230 United Airlines employees faced termination for not complying with the company's vaccine mandate, a spokesperson for the airline told FOX Television Stations. United said around 99.7% of its employees are already vaccinated.
Last week, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released official public health guidance for its 2021 holiday season urging people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus while continuing to wear masks indoors and in public spaces.
The guidance stresses that people should get vaccinated ahead of the holidays if they haven't done so already. For young children who aren't yet eligible for the vaccine, the CDC suggests reducing risk of exposure by making sure the people around them are vaccinated.
"If you are considering traveling for a holiday or event, visit CDC’s Travel page to help you decide what is best for you and your family. CDC still recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated," the agency wrote.
For Americans traveling within the United States, vaccination requirements do not apply. Apart from ongoing mask mandates and some restrictions on alcohol, the holiday travel season will remain largely the same with no testing or proof of vaccination required.
For international travelers, the U.S. said last month it will allow foreigners to fly into the country this coming November if they have vaccination proof and a negative COVID-19 test — changes replacing rules that had kept out many non-citizens in Europe and beyond where virus cases are lower.
The changes, to take effect in November, will allow families and others who have been separated by the travel restrictions for 18 months to plan for long-awaited reunifications and allow foreigners with work permits to get back to their jobs in the U.S.
Zients announced the new policies, which still will require all foreign travelers flying to the U.S. to demonstrate proof of vaccination before boarding, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of flight.
The latest guidance comes as the nation braces for yet another possible surge in COVID-19 infections as cold weather drives people indoors while the pandemic persists.
This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed to this story.