While a federal judge in Georgia halted the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors in a decision earlier this month, defense contractors are taking various approaches in response to the ruling and other factors, including the possible drain on profits from releasing workers opposed to the vaccine and the health risks of retaining unvaccinated workers.

In suspending mandatory vaccinations this month, Boeing [BA], for example, said that 92 percent of its 125,000 U.S. workers are fully vaccinated or have received religious or medical exemptions. The company said on Dec. 17 that its decision to stop mandatory vaccinations “comes after a detailed review of a U.S. District Court ruling earlier this month that halts the enforcement of a federal executive order requiring vaccinations for federal contractors.”

COVID-19. (Photo: CDC)

U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of Georgia R. Stan Baker on Dec. 7 issued a preliminary injunction to suspend the enforcement nationwide of the federal contractor vaccination mandate in Biden’s Executive Order 14042 last September.

The Dec. 7 decision questions the legality of the order Biden used to issue the mandate.

Last month, the Biden administration postponed the deadline from Dec. 8 to Jan. 4 next year for federal contractors, including defense firms, for their workers on “covered contracts” to have received the full complement of a required vaccine against COVID-19 unless workers have a religious or health exemption (Defense Daily, Nov. 4). Those receiving a second jab of the Pfizer [PFE] or Moderna [MRNA] vaccine or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson [JNJ] version would be judged fully vaccinated two weeks later, on Jan. 18.

Raytheon Technologies [RTX] said that is maintaining the Jan. 18 fully vaccinated requirement for company employees.

“We are focused on protecting our employees and communities, and maintaining our ability to meet our customers’ needs,” the company said. “Therefore, we will continue to mandate vaccinations for all employees while providing for reasonable accommodations in accordance with applicable laws.”

Lockheed Martin [LMT] said that it, too, is sticking by the vaccination requirement.

“The vaccine mandate, we’re about over 95 percent on track to be compliant with that among our population of employees, about 115,000,” Lockheed Martin CEO Jim Taiclet said recently.

BAE Systems said that it is “carefully monitoring court decisions on the federal vaccination mandate for federal contractors.”

“Currently, the vast majority of our workforce has been fully vaccinated or received an accommodation,” the company said. “Should the injunction on the federal mandate be overturned, we are in a strong position to continue meeting compliance. In addition, we are working to comply with the OSHA regulations for companies with more than 100 employees to require vaccination or weekly testing for those onsite.”

One crucial question that appears to lack a definitive answer is whether defense contractors who continue to employ the unvaccinated on covered contracts after Jan. 4 will be liable for breach of contract.

The earlier administration guidance provides a limited exception for an agency head to approve a 60-day exception after Dec. 8 for “urgent, mission-critical need” for covered employees to begin work on a federal contract or at a worksite before becoming fully vaccinated

Last month, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that she is backing an effort by congressional Republicans to challenge via the Congressional Review Act (CRA) the White House’s vaccine mandate. Murkowski said she’s received feedback from federal contractors in Alaska that the vaccine mandate will imperil contractor efforts to complete projects on time, as such contractors would have to hire new workers to replace those who refuse vaccinations and leave or are fired.