American Airlines and Southwest Airlines said Tuesday they will continue requiring employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19, deferring to federal regulations as Texas and the White House square off over vaccine mandates.

The clash comes as the Republican governor of Texas, Gregg Abbott, signed an order Monday banning all vaccine mandates in his state, including those coming from private companies.

But that state rule is in direct contradiction with a regulation announced by President Joe Biden last month, which would require all companies with more than 100 employees to ensure their workers are vaccinated against the coronavirus.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday the new Texas law does not change the federal government's vaccine mandate plans, which could cover some 100 million US workers.

"We know that federal law overrides state law," Psaki said.

But the Biden administration has yet to detail the practical applications of the federal order.

"There isn't a big historic precedent for this and we want to get it right," Psaki said, assuring that plans for the federal order could be expected within "weeks."

As federal contractors, major airlines must require their employees to be vaccinated by December 8, which could prove complicated for those based in Texas.

American Airlines said it will defer to federal law over the Texas state law on employer vaccine mandates
American Airlines said it will defer to federal law over the Texas state law on employer vaccine mandates AFP / Cooper NEILL

American Airlines said it will defer to federal law over the state law.

"We are reviewing the executive order issued by Gov. Abbott, but we believe the federal vaccine mandate supersedes any conflicting state laws, and this does not change anything for American," a spokesperson for the carrier said in a statement to AFP.

Fellow Texas-based airline Southwest also said Tuesday it would continue requiring vaccines for employees, despite Abbott's order.

"According to the president's executive order, federal action supersedes any state mandate or law, and we would be expected to comply with the president's order to remain compliant as a federal contractor," Southwest said in a statement.

And the Greater Houston Partnership, a Texas business group that includes Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Shell and JP Morgan Chase, said in a statement Tuesday: "The governor's executive order does not support Texas businesses' ability and duty to create a safe workplace."

Abbott said Monday he supported vaccination, but would not allow mandates for it in his state.

"I issued an Executive Order prohibiting vaccine mandates by ANY entity in Texas," the governor wrote on Twitter.

"The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective & our best defense against the virus, but should always remain voluntary & never forced," said Abbott, who is also against mask mandates and tested positive for the virus in August.

Psaki slammed the Texas order during a press briefing Tuesday.

"I think it's pretty clear when you make a choice that's against all public health information and data out there that it's not based on what is in the interest of the people you are governing," she said.

"It's perhaps in the interest of your own politics."