A pilot union in the US has pushed for the Federal Aviation Administration to approve the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for use by pilots as soon as it receives broader regulatory approval, and prioritise the jab for flight crew.
Previously, pilots have been instructed by their unions not to participate in any vaccine trials, as getting the jab could see a pilot lose their medical certificate and thus put their job at risk.
Now, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) is urging the Federal Aviation Administration to approve the vaccine for use by flight crews, and even gone so far as to ask the regulator to ensure pilots get priority vaccine access.
“Airline pilots are required to maintain medical certification from the FAA, but approval for use of the vaccine is required by the agency before it can be administered to flight crews,” ALPA said in a 9 December letter to US senators.
“It is essential that the FAA approve this vaccine for use by airline pilots as soon as possible” following the vaccine’s approval by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the letter also said.
The FDA’s decision to approve the Pfizer vaccine is expected to come within the coming days or weeks, and will follow on from the UK government’s decision to approve the vaccine for widespread use.
The ALPA noted that pilots of cargo aircraft “have experienced an alarming increase in COVID-19 exposure and infections”.
“It is critical that, following the initial distribution, airline pilots are provided priority access to the vaccine,” the ALPA said.
“Ensuring this prioritisation will allow the logistical component of transporting the vaccine to continue unencumbered.”
The union added that it had spent weeks advocating to expedite the FAA’s approval of upcoming vaccines for flight crews, due to the nature and risk of their roles.
The FAA said it was “closely monitoring the active vaccine trials and awaiting the outcome” of vaccine-related hearings currently underway by an FDA advisory panel.
“While the agency has made no final decisions, we are prepared to evaluate the use of each vaccine by medical certificate holders as soon as an emergency-use authorisation is issued,” the FAA said.
In the past, the FAA has not moved to approve the use of vaccines or medications on pilots for at least one year following regulatory approval by the FDA.
“However, given the nature of the current public health emergency, the FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine will expedite its review of the emergency-use authorisations for the vaccines,” the FAA said.