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Approximately 93% of Transportation and Security Administration employees are in compliance with President Biden’s deadline for federal employees to have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or an approved exemption, quelling concerns that the mandate would impact holiday travel.
Nov. 22 marked the deadline for more than 3.5 million federal employees to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19, after the president’s September executive order mandated those individuals be vaccinated.
“Approximately 93% of @TSA employees are in compliance with today’s deadline for the federal employee vaccine mandate and exemption requirements,” TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein tweeted Monday morning.
“The employee vaccine mandate will not impact holiday travel,” she added. “Happy Thanksgiving!”
Earlier this month, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., sent a letter to TSA Administrator David Pekoske expressing concern that there would be staffing shortages in light of the mandate, following a television interview where Pekoske had said only 60% had been vaccinated.
A senior administration official told Fox News Monday that the Biden administration has achieved 95% compliance across the federal government—meaning that employees have had at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, or have pending or approved exception or extension requests.
The official said that more than 90% of those employees have had at least one shot, with “the vast majority of those employees being fully vaccinated.”
“These numbers make one thing perfectly clear: vaccination requirements work,” the official said, adding that the Nov. 22 deadline “is not an end point,” noting that officials continue to see federal employees providing their information and getting vaccinated.
Pekoske had been confident that the agency would be ready to handle the surge in holiday travelers regardless of the vaccine mandate.
“Implementation of the mandate will make travel safer and healthier for everyone,” Pekoske said. “So, we see quite a significant increase in the number of our officers that are vaccinated, and I’m very confident that there will be no impact for Thanksgiving.”
“We are prepared,” Pekoske told ABC’s “Good Morning America,” but warned that travelers should still expect long wait times to pass through security at airports across the country due to the surge in holiday travelers.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts that more than 53.4 million people will travel this year, in what will be the highest single-year increase since 2005.
Travel for the holiday, AAA noted, is up 13% from 2020, bringing volumes within 5% of pre-pandemic levels.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it expects to screen about 20 million passengers during the Thanksgiving holiday.
The busiest days are typically the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving and the Sunday afterward.
While travel volume this year is not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels when nearly 2.9 million individuals were screened at TSA security checkpoints nationwide, the agency said it is expected to be notably higher in the time leading up to Thanksgiving.
“We anticipate that travel may be very close to pre-pandemic levels this holiday, and we are staffed and prepared for the holiday travelers. We have deployed technologies that enhance detection capabilities and reduce physical contact, and it’s equally important that passengers are prepared with travel tips for the most efficient checkpoint experience,” Pekoske said. “With overall vaccination rates improving nationwide and greater confidence in healthy travel, there will be more people traveling so plan ahead, remain vigilant and practice kindness.”
According to the TSA website, there are currently 273 TSA employees with active COVID-19 infections. Those employees are “staying home to keep the traveling public safe.”
The TSA also said that since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency cumulatively had 11,171 federal employees test positive for COVID-19—10,898 of those employees recovered, but 32 “unfortunately died after contracting the virus.” TSA also said that two screening contractors have also passed away after COVID infections.
Fox News’ Julia Musto and The Associated Press contributed to this report.