The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is yet to determine if pilot vaccination for Covid-19 is OK, in order for them to keep their medicals. The issue is in the vetting and evaluation process of the emergency approval for the vaccines.
The FAA can’t make a decision on the matter of pilot vaccination until it hears from an FDA committee. This Food and Drug Administration committee is looking specifically at the approval of the Pfizer vaccine. In a message to AVweb, the FAA wrote:
“The FAA is closely monitoring the active vaccine trials and awaiting the outcome of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee’s scheduled meeting next week.
“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 authorization is issued”.
This is a technical matter, but potentially a serious one. Pilots need to be careful about any medications they may take. They need to consult their Aeromedical Examiner (AME) even for seemingly trivial medicines. So pilot vaccination is very significant. The FAA will be looking for any potential side-effects of each vaccine, as they go through the approval process.
This scrutiny around pilot vaccination seems understandable, but there are some wider implications. For example, we saw that Qantas expects that international passengers will need to get the vaccine before they can travel. Of course vaccines will have approval by then, so the same should apply for pilots. But there may be a question about which authority approves which vaccine, in each country…
Pilot Vaccination For Trials?
Meanwhile, a separate issue has appeared. This is about pilots taking part in clinical trials for Covid-19 vaccines. According to the AirLine Pilots’ Association (ALPA), its pilot members should not undergo vaccination in these trials. ALPA states:
“Although clinical trials are under way for a COVID-19 vaccine, there are currently no known effective vaccines or therapeutics. And since no trial COVID-19 vaccine has full FDA approval, the FAA considers participation in COVID-19 vaccine trials medically disqualifying for pilots for an indefinite period. ALPA representatives are working with the FAA to better define a policy as the science evolves”.
The FAA hasn’t made any official statements regarding this matter. But given how seriously FAA takes pilot vaccination in general, perhaps ALPA’s advise is not surprising. The association points out that Canada’s aviation authorities have taken a stance on the matter:
“In Canada, the director of Civil Aviation Medicine stated that participation in medical trials isn’t considered compatible with aviation medical certification”.
With the United States now in or entering flu season (depending on where you are), ALPA advises its pilots to get the flu vaccine. While it won’t protect them from Covid-19, it could keep some of its worse symptoms at bay. And we all need pilots to be healthy, so they can move those vaccines around!