Spc. James Alston, a combat medic, holds a dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Harrison County Health Department in Gulfport, Miss., Jan. 5, 2021. (US National Guard/A. Danielle Thomas)

WASHINGTON: The White House is delaying the COVID-19 vaccination deadline for federal contractors from Dec. 8 to Jan. 4, giving defense firms another month to ensure employees come into compliance with the order.

The new deadline provides more time and flexibility for defense contractors struggling to ensure its workforce is fully vaccinated or goes through the process for obtaining a medical or religious waivers. However, some defense CEOs have indicated that a percentage of the workforce do not plan to get the vaccine — potentially setting up employee layoffs that could trigger cost increases and schedule delays for weapons and other defense products.

The new date, previewed by senior administration officials on Wednesday evening, sets a consistent deadline for federal contractors, healthcare workers and businesses with 100 or more employees to receive the vaccine. The Biden administration formally announced the new deadline today.

Notably, while companies with more than 100 employees are allowed to exempt employees who test negative for COVID-19 at least once a week, that policy has still not been extended to federal contractors.

Last week, the chief executives from Raytheon and Northrop Grumman acknowledged that they had increased the hiring of new employees in anticipation of having to lay off workers who do not get the vaccine.

“We are ensuring that we have training and skill building programs in place, so as we bring those new employees into the workplace, they can get productive and efficient as quickly as possible,” Northrop Grumman CEO Kathy Warden told investors during an Oct. 28 earnings call.

However, she added that the company will not be able to assess the industrial impact of the mandate on its business until after the deadline, when it will know how many workers — and what expertise — will exit the company.

Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes anticipated that 3% of Raytheon employees would refuse to get the vaccine, or about “several thousand” workers.

Wes Hallman, the National Defense Industrial Association’s senior vice president for strategy and policy, told Breaking Defense last week that an extension of the deadline would be helpful for companies that are struggling to understand federal guidance.

“[There’s] not a whole lot of maneuver space to become compliant with this requirement, so because of that we’re pedaling as fast as we can,” he said then.

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