PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The Port Authority will now require the COVID-19 vaccine for all 2,600 of its employees.
Port Authority leadership announced the new mandate Monday, notifying its employee unions. About 75% are already vaccinated.
It comes as COVID-19 infections have led to agency-wide staffing shortages and consequently major disruptions to service.
"Our job is to get folks around town. And we cannot get you around town if we're not here, and we've seen with Omicron how quickly it is for people to get sick," said CEO Katharine Kelleman.
According to Kelleman, employees were notified Monday that they have until March 15 to present proof of full vaccination.
If they don't, "they're gonna go on unpaid admin leave. We'll reach out and say, 'hey have you gotten your first shot, have you gotten your second shot?' If they go and get that first shot, they'll stay on unpaid leave until they get that second shot, or they get a certain amount of time and that's it," said Kelleman.
The vaccine requirement comes as seven unvaccinated employees have died from COVID-19 complications since the pandemic began. Four of those employees passed away before the vaccine was widely available. More than 50 employees have been out with the virus in the first week of 2022, according to the Port Authority.
With some input from board members and passengers, the decision to require vaccines was ultimately Kelleman's to make. She told KDKA she recognizes this action will not prevent infections entirely, but she pointed to CDC data showing unvaccinated people are six to seven times more likely to contract and spread the virus.
The new policy goes into effect on Feb. 1.
The policy will not include a testing option in lieu of being vaccinated, the agency said.
The Port Authority is working with its unions to continue possible financial incentives and paid time off for employees who experience side effects from the vaccine.
For more information on the Port Authority's COVID-19 safety plan, click here.
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