The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved the Pfizer / BionTech COVID-19 vaccine for use on pilots and air traffic controllers following concerns pilots would be medically disqualified from working if they received the jab. The ruling, which was announced on Saturday, came just 24-hours after the Federal Drug Administration issued an emergency use approval for the vaccine that uses “novel” mRNA technology.
But while the FAA said pilots and air traffic controllers were now cleared to have the vaccine, there would have to be a 48-hour no work buffer after the jab was administered.
Last Tuesday, the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to start administering the vaccine to high-risk groups outside of clinical trials. But just two days later, the country’s healthcare regulator warned people with a “history of significant allergic reactions” not to take the Pfizer vaccine when two healthcare workers suffered anaphylactoid reactions a short time after receiving the jab.
The FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine said it “would monitor the patient response to Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and may adjust this policy as necessary to ensure aviation safety.”
Additional vaccines will only be evaluated for use on pilots and air traffic controllers once they have been cleared by the FDA.
Earlier this week, a group of aviation trade body’s and unions wrote to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a bid to give airline workers priority access to COVID-19 vaccines once they become available.
The CDC has so far said healthcare workers and residents of elderly care homes should be the first to get vaccinated but is still to draw up plans for the wider roll-out. Pilots groups suggested rising infection levels amongst airline workers would delay the distribution of vaccines across the United States and around the world, arguing priority vaccination would alleviate delays potential distribution delays.
The signatories of the letter include trade body Airlines 4 America which represents major U.S. carriers like American, Delta and United Airlines, as well as Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines. The ALPA pilots union also joined the calls for airline workers to get priority access.
Last week, Delta chief executive Ed Bastian said his employees would be strongly encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as they were offered the jab and hoped airline workers would be prioritized. Bastian also suggested mandatory vaccination might be required to work or travel as a passenger on long-haul international flights.
Australian flag carrier Qantas is so far the only airline to have publicly announced a ‘no jab, no fly’ policy once it restarts regularly scheduled international flights in the second half of 2021. Chief executive Alan Joyce said he respected the personal decisions of people not to get vaccinated but said they had no right to fly with Qantas and would not be welcomed onboard its planes.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.