Travel | Updated October 25, 2021 1:37 pm
Originally Published October 21, 2021 6:37 am

​​What Happens If 40% of the TSA Workforce Is Still Unvaccinated Ahead of the Holidays?

Only around 60% of TSA employees have reportedly received the vaccine ahead of a November 22 deadline

​​What Happens If 40% of the TSA Workforce Is Still Unvaccinated Ahead of the Holidays?

Last week, in an interview with CNN, TSA Administrator David Pekoske said that 40% of its workforce remains unvaccinated ahead of the November 22 deadline.

“We have about 60% of our workforce has been vaccinated, that number needs to go quite a bit higher over the next few weeks,” Pekoske said.

As a refresher, said deadline was imposed for all civilian federal government workers, and the last possible day to have received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine — which requires a three-week waiting period between shots — and be considered fully inoculated by November 22 was … October 18. Three days ago. For Moderna, which requires a four-week waiting period, it was October 11. So employees that remain unvaccinated will be left with no choice but to sit for the one jab Johnson & Johnson shot by no later than November 8 to meet the deadline.

But despite the fact that the holidays are just around the corner, officials aren’t panicking … yet.

“Vaccination requirements will not impact holiday travel,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said in a statement. “The requirements for federal workers and contractors will not cause disruptions to government services that people depend on. Agencies have the flexibility necessary to enforce the mandate without impacting critical operations.”

“The point here is to get people vaccinated, not to punish them,” he continued. ”So, agencies will not be removing employees from federal service until after they’ve gone through a process of education and counseling.”

It’s still unclear what will happen if TSA employees continue to refuse the vaccination following that period of education and counseling, although TSA spokespeople remain optimistic that it won’t come to that. 

“As we’ve seen across other sectors, we anticipate that the vast majority of TSA employees will get vaccinated,” one particular spokesperson told Forbes in an interview. “Thousands of TSA employees upload their vaccination every week using an online tool developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for personnel to report their current vaccination status. My understanding is that the current percentage reflects employees that TSA doesn’t yet have vaccination information on, and is not an accurate reflection of its vaccination rate.”

It’s still worth wondering whether — if 4 out of 10 TSA employees still haven’t gotten the jab by November 8 — there will be some nightmarish ramifications come the holidays. Should employees be released from their positions, we could be looking at longer-than-usual security checkpoint lines staffed by a sector that could face a sudden and drastic labor shortage. And if they’re not? That would make for an abundance of potentially high-risk, unvaccinated employees stationed at some of the most highly trafficked airports in the world during the busiest travel months of the year. InsideHook reached out to TSA for further clarification on the new “education and counseling process,” and will post an update if and when new information comes available.

If you don’t yet have TSA Pre-Check, now is a good time to consider getting it. Particularly coming off the news that, per a new report from Kayak, international travel-related searches to the United States have spiked following the announcement that fully vaccinated foreign nationals could once again be allowed to visit starting on — you guessed it! — November 8.

“We are building contingency plans, for if we do have some staffing shortages as a result of this, but I hope to avoid that,” Pekoske said.

Plans to travel any time in the next two months? You should really be hoping to avoid that, too.