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Delta says it will require new hires to be vaccinated for COVID-19

The company said the vaccine would be required for newly hired employees unless they qualify for an accommodation.

ATLANTA — Delta says it will begin requiring new hires to have been vaccinated for COVID-19.

The airline issued a statement on Thursday saying that the move was important to "protect our workforce and our customers as our business recovers and demand for air travel continues to rise."

The airline industry was among the hardest hit by the pandemic last year, with CEO Ed Bastian saying earlier this year that 2020 was the "toughest year in Delta's history." The company reported billions in losses, though air travel has begun surging again as more and more Americans have been vaccinated.

RELATED: 'Toughest year in Delta’s history' | Delta reports billions in losses in 2020

"We know that vaccines are the best tool we have to protect one another and bring an end to the pandemic," Delta said in its statement. "Delta people have made great progress to achieve herd immunity within our workforce, so to help us maintain that trajectory, we will be requiring all new hires in the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they qualify for an accommodation."

The company did not lay out specific details on what might qualify a new hire for an exemption.

The move to require vaccinations for new hires makes Delta the first among major Atlanta-based companies to announce such a policy. 

The CEO of United Airlines in January endorsed a similar policy for that company, calling it the "right thing to do," but United has not yet publicly announced that they would be following through with it.