TSA works to increase 60% employee vaccination rate ahead of mandate

With next month’s deadline quickly approaching, the Transportation Security Administration is racing to get more of its employees vaccinated against COVID-19 as required by a federal mandate.

Last month, President Joe Biden issued an executive order that requires federal employees to get fully vaccinated by November 22. In the order, Biden said he was doing so to ensure “the health and safety of the Federal workforce and the efficiency of the civil service.”

About 60% of the TSA’s workforce has been vaccinated, “and that number needs to go quite a bit higher over the next few weeks,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNN in an interview last week.

But a TSA spokesman said Monday that the agency doesn’t have information on the vaccination status of all of its employees. Thus, the figure is likely not an accurate reflection of the actual vaccination rate, he said.

“Thousands of TSA employees upload their vaccination every week,” TSA spokesman R. Carter Langston said in an email. He added, “We anticipate that the vast majority of TSA employees will get vaccinated.”

To meet the president’s deadline, employees needed to have the first dose of the Moderna vaccine by Oct. 11 and the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine by Monday. That’s because of the wait between the shots, as well the time it takes to build immunity after the second injection.

Otherwise, to comply with the order, federal workers must get the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Nov. 8.

It’s yet to be seen how a shortfall could affect lines and wait times at Hartsfield-Jackson International, one of the world’s busiest airports. TSA said it does not have a breakdown of vaccination rates at individual airports.

The agency said it is hosting employee town halls, sending emails and posting information on the requirements in break rooms.

Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the TSA has “hinted at a potential real travel mess as Thanksgiving approaches,” if the vaccination rate for its employees doesn’t improve. He called for TSA to use K9 teams as a contingency plan for staffing and security at airports.

Schumer said the use of K9 teams, with specially trained dogs that sniff for explosives or potential bomb-making ingredients, “really works, and it moves the lines along.”