A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official said in an interview published on Wednesday that 40 percent of the TSA's workforce remains unvaccinated ahead of a Nov. 22 deadline set by the Biden administration.
Speaking to CNN, TSA Administrator David Pekoske said he was "very hopeful" that his agency's employees would meet the deadline, but said that "contingency plans" were in development in case some employees are unable to work who are not vaccinated in time.
"We have about 60 percent of our workforce has been vaccinated, that that number needs to go quite a bit higher over the next few weeks," Pekoske told CNN. "We are building contingency plans for if we do have some staffing shortages as a result of this, but I hope to avoid that."
CNN reported that Pekoske has been holding town hall meetings in an effort to encourage more employees to get vaccinated.
With the deadline six weeks away, employees have already missed the point at which they can get vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine. The two-shot regimen is administered four weeks apart and an additional two weeks are needed after the shots for a patient to be considered fully vaccinated.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered three weeks apart, leaving workers a bit of leeway, unless they decide to instead get the one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. CNN noted the latest possible date that federal employees can get the Pfizer vaccine is Oct. 18.
A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson told The Hill that vaccination statuses are self-reported by TSA workers and that the remaining 40 percent who have not yet reported their status are not necessarily unvaccinated.
The spokesperson pointed out that TSA workers do not work in traditional office jobs where they are regularly sending emails and many do not have the equipment necessary to submit responses to government surveys. According to the spokesperson, TSA survey responses are often delayed when compared to other DHS components, but eventually, reach a response rate consistent with the DHS.
The spokesperson added that DHS anticipates the majority of TSA workers will be in compliance with the mandate by the deadline.
In a memo sent out earlier this month, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said federal agencies could begin enforcing the vaccine mandate beginning on Nov. 9 for employees who are still not vaccinated.
"Employees who refuse to be vaccinated or provide proof of vaccination are subject to disciplinary measures, up to and including removal or termination from Federal service," OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said. "The only exception is for individuals who receive a legally required exception pursuant to established agency processes."
Editor's Note: This report was updated at 9:38 a.m. on Tuesday to clarify that 40 percent of TSA employees have not reported their vaccine status and are not necessarily unvaccinated.