Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Joseph Casassa administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Logistics Specialist Seaman Rix Zhang at Naval Station Norfolk, April 8, 2021.

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Joseph Casassa administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Logistics Specialist Seaman Rix Zhang at Naval Station Norfolk, April 8, 2021. U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jackson Adkins

Defense Companies Not Weighing Vaccine Mandates, Yet

There have been some informal discussions about requiring the shot.

U.S. defense companies are urging employees to get coronavirus vaccines, but stopping short of requiring them, even in parts of the country experiencing high levels of infection.

But that could change in the coming months depending on a host of factors, most notably if the Food and Drug Administration gives full approval to vaccines that are currently being administered under an emergency use authorization.

The Biden administration is expected to announce today that all federal workers must be vaccinated or submit to testing and adhere to other workplace restrictions; the DOD sent a memo Wednesday reinstating the mask mandate in areas of significant transmission.  The announcements come as the Delta variant spreads through largely unvaccinated regions of the country.

For now, the largest defense firms say they will continue to follow CDC guidelines and keep urging employees to get vaccinated without making it a condition of employment.

“Please encourage everyone you know to get the vaccine if they haven't already,” Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said Wednesday at the start of the company’s quarterly earnings call.

While most companies have encouraged all employees to get vaccinated, some have offered monetary incentives. Raytheon Technologies offered employees $200, while Leidos offered vaccinated employees a chance to win a bonus equal to one year’s salary.

Several executives, who spoke to Defense One on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal company deliberations, said that new federal vaccine and testing mandates could prompt their firms to follow suit. Google said Wednesday that it would require employees to get a vaccine before returning to offices later this year.

Throughout the defense sector, workers on assembly lines and those who need access to classified computer networks have reported in person to job sites since the early days of the pandemic. Companies scrambled to institute CDC recommendations on masks and social distancing. But many firms’ corporate offices remain sparsely populated, with many employees still working remotely.

The pandemic has unevenly affected defense suppliers, depending on how much of a company’s work involves commercial aircraft manufacturing. While domestic passenger air travel has rebounded in recent months from record lows in 2020, international travel remains low due to pandemic restrictions. That has lowered airlines’ need for expensive, widebody airplanes that typically fly those routes.

The CEOs of Boeing and Raytheon Technologies, two companies hit hard by the decline in air travel, don’t expect passenger travel to return to pre-pandemic levels until late 2023 or 2024.

“We are optimistic that we could see a faster recovery, should we get a more robust vaccine rollout,” Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes said Tuesday during the company’s quarterly earnings call.