By Dillon Thomas

DENVER (CBS4) – United Airlines will require all employees in the United States to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 25. The decision comes as the delta variant surges cases across the United States and goes against the company’s previous commitment to allow current pilots and flight attendants to choose if they wanted to be vaccinated.

In a letter to employees, obtained by CBS4’s Dillon Thomas, United CEO Scott Kirby said recent studies into the effectiveness of the vaccines led the company to pivot.

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“We know now that an unvaccinated person is about 50 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than a vaccinated person and nearly 300 times more likely to die,” Kirby wrote.

(credit: CBS)

Pilots and flight attendants were originally told they could choose not to be vaccinated, while all new hires would be required to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19.

Current pilots and flight attendants were originally told they could forgo vaccination at the expense of potentially losing paid assignments to international destinations that required vaccinations.

Now, with Kirby’s latest notice, United has chosen to require the vaccine for all employees by November.

“All U.S.-based United employees will be required to upload a vaccine card showing you have received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine (or one dose of the J&J vaccine) five weeks after the FDA has announced it has fully approved a COVID-19 vaccine or five weeks after September 20th, whichever comes first,” Kirby wrote.

(credit: CBS)

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United will offer an additional day of pay to all employees who get their vaccine.

Flight attendants and pilots who were vaccinated before a deadline earlier this summer were given additional benefits like extra time off or pay. United said those who have already claimed those perks were not eligible for the newly-announced extra day pay.

“We proactively promoted the benefits of vaccination to our employees, helped thousands of you get vaccinated at our airport clinics and required vaccinations for new employees and those of you flying positive space for international travel,” Kirby wrote.

Kirby acknowledged that the decision wouldn’t be well-received by many employees. However, he felt the airline had a responsibility to offer its safest possible work and travel environment for all.

(Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

“We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees. But, we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated,” Kirby said.

Kirby said he’s sent countless condolence letters to employees and families who have lost loved ones due to the pandemic. He said requiring vaccines would prevent future loss.

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“Thank you for all you continue to do to take care of our customers and one another. Together, we’ll do our part to defeat this virus and continue along our journey to becoming the best airline in the history of aviation,” Kirby wrote.

Dillon Thomas