With the FDA giving its emergency approval for Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, the FAA now authorises pilots and ATC personnel to have it. But there are some conditions the FAA has for both of them.
Earlier this month there was some controversy, as the FAA and the AirLine Pilots’ Association (ALPA) suggested that pilots should not participate in vaccine trials. ALPA stated that since the vaccine trials have no FDA approval, they won’t have FAA approval either. Additionally, without FDA approval, the disqualification for use of the vaccine trials would be for an indefinite period.
There seemed to be some ambiguity in the story, as it was coming through ALPA. Elsewhere, the Canadian director of Civil Aviation Medicine stated that participation in medical trials “isn’t considered compatible with aviation medical certification”. In the US, ALPA advised its pilot members to get the FAA-approved flu vaccine instead.
That was before Pfizer’s vaccine got FDA approval. It received its approval on the 11th of December. A day later, the FAA cleared the vaccine for pilot use. Obviously this still only applies to the Pfizer vaccine. The approval also applies to Air Traffic Controllers. ATC personnel also need aviation medicals, so the same conditions for the vaccine apply to them. And yes, there are some conditions – and observations.
FAA’s Vaccine Conditions
Pilots and ATC staff will need to stay clear of safety-sensitive aviation duties for 48 hours after vaccination. This is a policy that applies to other medications as well. For pilots that means flying, for ATC staff it means controlling aircraft movements. FAA’s 48-hour stipulation applies to both doses of the vaccine. As with other vaccines and medications, the FAA expects pilots that observe having more adverse side-effects than expected, to notify their AMEs and follow their instructions.
It should be noted, however that so far, this is a bit theoretical, in a way. Unlike health-care workers, neither the FAA nor the FDA are pushing to have pilots vaccinated quickly. Cabin crews also require aviation medicals, but so far the FAA has not taken a position on them getting the vaccine. Cabin crews have critical roles in aviation safety, both in emergencies and in dealing with unruly passengers. It will be interesting to see how requirements for cabin crews might differ from pilots and ATC, however.
Some could argue that cabin crews come in contact with passengers and are, therefore, put to greater risk. So there may be thoughts that they need to receive the vaccine first. But we will need to wait to hear from the FAA and other aviation authorities about this.
For ALPA’s most up-to-date statement, made after the FAA authorised the vaccine’s use, go HERE