The chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the National Institutes of Health said on Friday that he expected to hold hearings this year about thousands of employees who work at United Airlines.
Neil Breslin, the New York Democrat, said he believed the airline’s policy of not vaccinating its pilots, flight attendants and other workers had created an “unacceptably” high rate of infectious disease among the airline’s thousands of employees.
On Thursday, US Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised the topic with airline employees at a union meeting in Sacramento. “The company’s very cavalier attitude about when they are going to vaccinate their workers … is, from my perspective, inexcusable,” the Massachusetts Democrat said at the meeting.
It appears that workers at American Airlines and United Airlines could soon face the same unsettling challenges faced by workers at many major hospital and university networks that have been forced to cut costs by instituting strict vaccination protocols.
A spokesperson for the company, which maintains that the policy at all three airlines is “closely aligned” with US aviation laws, said that United has “consistently examined and updated its vaccine recommendations, and, in cooperation with our pilots, flight attendants and cabin crews, has immunized them.”
“We regularly remind our employees that they need to be as safe as possible by immunizing,” the spokesperson said.
For years, advocates for vaccines have been pushing employers to require their workers to be vaccinated. They have also been clamoring for an update to federal law that requires workers whose jobs put them into direct contact with infectious diseases to be vaccinated. That law, which was enacted in 1976, was passed following a rash of measles outbreaks throughout the US that year, when cases of the disease emerged in every state except Alaska.
The legislation, then known as the Public Health Service Act, required that companies with 50 or more employees immunize their employees against infectious diseases, including rubella, diphtheria, pertussis, polio, tetanus, hepatitis B and measles. The requirement has been slowly eroded, with employers opting out of immunization requirements.
After the passage of the 1976 law, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched an awareness campaign to help companies provide inoculations for employees. A CDC spokesperson said the mandate was included in “any proposed legislation that could change the vaccine requirements for employers.”