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Delta Air Lines to charge unvaccinated workers $200 a month

Delta CEO on new vax policy, Afghan evacuation
Delta CEO Ed Bastian on new employee vaccine policy, next steps in Afghanistan evacuation 06:52

Delta Air Lines on Wednesday said it will begin charging unvaccinated workers a hefty monthly sum.

In a memo sent to employees, CEO Ed Bastian said unvaccinated employees who participate in the airline's health care plan will incur an additional $200 monthly fee beginning in November. The impetus for the surcharge is the high cost of hospital stays for COVID-19 patients and the risk they pose to the company's earnings, he said.

"The average hospital stay for COVID-19 has cost Delta $50,000 per person. This surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company," Bastian said in the memo.

Bastian indicated that all Delta employees who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 were not fully vaccinated. Starting September 30, only fully vaccinated workers who experience a breakthrough infection and have to miss work will qualify for paid sick leave.

The airline urged employees to get their shots, but stopped short of mandating vaccination against COVID-19. Bastian said individuals who are hesitant to get inoculated should be encouraged by the FDA's full approval this week of the Pfizer vaccine.

Officials hope FDA's Pfizer COVID vaccine approval convinces holdouts 02:20

"With this week's announcement that the FDA has granted full approval for the Pfizer vaccine, the time for you to get vaccinated is now. We can be confident that the Pfizer vaccine is safe and effective, and has undergone the same rigorous review for other approved medications to treat cancer and heart disease, as well as other vaccines," Bastian said. 

Three-quarters of Delta employees are already vaccinated, according to the company. Still, the airline would like to get "as close to 100% as possible," Bastian said.

More COVID-19 fees on the horizon

While Delta is the first major U.S. employer to announce this kind of penalty for unvaccinated individuals, other companies are expected to follow suit. 

"Because of the emergence of the Delta variant and because vaccination levels have stalled out with employers, they're trying to take some more 'stick'-type measures rather than the incentive," said Wade Symons, a partner at benefits consulting firm Mercer Health. "They're looking for something that's going to move the needle, and they're looking at a surcharge as a potential option for that." 

Companies in manufacturing, retail, hospitality and other sectors are also weighing a health coverage fee for unvaccinated workers.  

"Unvaccinated individuals have potential to cost the employer more from a health care spend perspective," Symons told CBS MoneyWatch. "They could get COVID and incur expensive hospital costs up to $50,000 for an individual with a tough COVID case."

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