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Biden praises Southwest one day after CEO says he ‘forced’ vaccine mandate on company

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President Joe Biden offered praise for the efforts of Southwest Airlines in combatting Covid-19 misinformation during a national address, just one day after the company’s CEO appeared to rebuke the president for implementing a vaccination mandate on businesses with more than 100 employees.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Mr Biden addressed the state of efforts to battle Covid-19 around the country and explained that some companies and other private organisations were “stepping up” to fight misinformation.

“Southwest Airlines ... the head of the pilots’ union and its CEO dismissed critics who claim vaccination mandates contributed to flight disruptions,” Mr Biden said.

His remarks came despite comments from Southwest CEO Greg Kelly on CNBC addressing a wave of flight disruptions that peaked this Sunday, with the company being forced to cancel just under a third of its flights across the US.

The CEO remarked that he had “never been in favour of corporations imposing that kind of a mandate” before stressing that “that’s not what was at issue with Southwest over the weekend”.

“We’re urging all our employees to get vaccinated,” added Mr Kelly. “If they can’t, we’re urging them to seek an accommodation, either for medical or religious reasons. My goal is of course is that no one loses their job. The objective here is to improve health and safety – not for people to lose their jobs.”

The White House unveiled a vaccination mandate for companies with 100 or more employees in September, frustrated by persistent hesitancy towards the jabs in some communities, particularly in conservative parts of the country.

Employees of healthcare facilities and the federal government are required to get the vaccine under the mandate, while those in other fields can undergo regular Covid-19 testing as an alternative.

The measure has sparked fury among the Republican base, where vaccine scepticism remains high. As a result conservative politicians in Republican-led states including Texas and Florida have taken steps to prevent such mandates from being implemented.

Mr Biden stressed on Thursday during his address that vaccination mandates should not be politicised, and instead should be seen as a common-sense measure to bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control.

There is “still an unacceptably high number of unvaccinated people” in the country, Mr Biden said.

"Let's be clear, vaccination requirements should not be another issue that divides us," he continued.

Just over 76 per cent of US residents ages 12 and up have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The FDA could approve vaccinations for Americans under 12 before the end of October, Dr Anthony Fauci said in late September.

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