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US pilots approved for COVID-19 vaccines

written by Hannah Dowling | December 22, 2020

Federal Aviation Administration staff onboard a 737 MAX certification flight.FAA

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has now given pilots and air traffic controllers the green light to receive both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, following union cries to make the call.

The US aviation regulator has specified that pilots and controllers must not fly or conduct safety-related duties for at least 48 hours after receiving their doses.

The FAA noted that it “will monitor the patient response to each vaccine dose and may adjust this policy as necessary to ensure aviation safety.”

Over the last number of weeks, unions and industry groups wrote to US law makers, asking them to “prioritise aviation frontline workers for allocation of the vaccine in your upcoming implementation plan.”

The groups stated that “aviation workers are frontline workers who either encounter the traveling public frequently or are required to perform our work in close proximity to our colleagues and perform our jobs onsite.”

The Air Lines Pilot Association began its own campaign for the FAA to approve COVID vaccines for pilots quickly after the FDA made its decision on the jab.

Previously, pilots have been instructed 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.


However, the ALPA changed its tune in light of COVID-19, and requested that the FAA not only approve the vaccine for use by flight crews, but even went 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 ALPA also 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.

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 earlier this month.


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