The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on governments to give flight attendants, pilots and other frontline aviation workers priority access to COVID-19 vaccines in a joint statement with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The statement, which also called for maritime workers to receive the same priority access to the limited supplies of vaccine currently available, said it was essential that they and aircrew were vaccinated as soon as possible.
The WHO was prompted to act because despite already publishing similar guidance, many governments have ignored its advice and put transport workers in lower priority groups. Aircrew and maritime workers continue to cross borders unvaccinated and in many cases are exempt from quarantine or testing.
In other cases, aircrew are subjected to stringent quarantine and testing but the WHO warns that these safety measures have hindered much-needed connectivity and resulted in significant costs.
“Seafarers and aircrew need to be protected through vaccination as soon as possible, to facilitate their safe movement across borders,” the statement explained.
“With this statement, our organizations also call on governments to prioritize seafarers and aircrew in their national COVID-19 vaccination programmes, together with other essential workers, in accordance with the advice from the WHO SAGE Roadmap for prioritizing the use of COVID-19 vaccines,” the statement demanded.
And while the WHO currently doesn’t support vaccination passports, it warned that aircrew and maritime workers might soon be barred from entering some countries that will demand proof of vaccination.
Some countries have prioritized the use of vaccines on aircrew, including in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where Etihad Airways said it had become the first airline in the world to only use vaccinated crew on all of its flights.
Emirates is also getting priority access to vaccines, while transport workers in Singapore have been at the front of the queue for the small city state’s vaccine rollout.
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.