When The FDA Approves A Covid-19 Vaccine, Pilots Won’t Be Able To Take It

The FDA considers the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine this week. U.K. regulators have already approved it. U.S. regulators are slow-walking.

An Emergency Use Authorization for the vaccine could come at the end of this week, or the beginning of next week. When doses start rolling out they’ll be in short supply (and there will be a race for those with enough money, status or power to get one).

Airline pilots, though, are going to have to wait for FAA approval once there’s FDA approval.

The FAA says it hasn’t yet determined whether pilots will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and keep their medicals.

… “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.”

Pilots can’t participate in Phase III vaccine trials. That makes sense. Since those trials follow not just how effective a vaccine is, but track study participants to determine side effects, and since pilots are responsible for the lives of hundreds of passengers and fellow crewmembers at a time, taking risks of this sort to their health (especially unknown risks) aren’t permitted.

And when the FDA gives its initial approval for a Covid-19 it will not be full approval (emergency use) so the FAA will consider its use by pilots separately even if pilots are considered essential or frontline workers for jumping to the head of the queue for access.

The AstraZeneca vaccine should be for sale in India for ~ $8 starting in March and it may be possible to get Sinopharm’s vaccine in Dubai and Bahrain now. But pilots can’t just do that vaccine tourism.

(HT: Dennis Y.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. One reason those of us who can get vaccinated should get vaccinated is to protect those who cannot get vaccinated.

  2. The key is to get going full speed with all the logistical elements. We talk about stimulus bills. The best and most long lasting stimulus to our economies and to the lives of people who are struggling in this disaster (not to mention those who are dying) is to get the vaccine out, massively and expeditiously. Ramp up production. Build new manufacturing plants. Charter aircraft. Hire back retired nurses at a nice salary. Build temporary and portable vaccine stations. Give everyone three paid days off to get a vaccine as an incentive to do it, and fund that so that employers won’t lose out. Think outside the box.

  3. Let me tell you how this will go: the FDA will approve the vaccine for emergency use. Immediately afterwards, the FAA will authorize it for pilots (and any others under this limitation) to use.

    This is a not a story.

  4. Speaking of pilots, Chuck Yeager has died. He was 97 years old.

    As a flight simulator fan on a home computer, surely you know who he was.

  5. By May, there will probably be too much vaccine in the US, no takers, and many Covid-19 deaths. That’s because the US is projected to have enough vaccine for 20 million the first month, 25 million people subsequent months. Maybe 100 million people in the US will refuse to get vaccinated because there are mind control microchips that eat your brain. The vaccine is not approved or test on kids. So maybe 100 million Americans will get the vaccine or 4 months.

  6. My inquiring mind wants to know, when a pilot or flight attendant was diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease like syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, or genital herpes, did the FAA previously prohibit pilots from receiving a new antibiotic treatment? If so, does this mean that only the flight attendants would be worthy of receiving an STD cure while infected pilots potentially spread disease internationally?

  7. @Ken A

    If there is any chance of adverse reaction that may on the infinitesimal chance affect their ability to pilot an aircraft, then the answer is NO until it is proven there is NO CHANCE of an adverse reaction. Hell Rogaine is even a disqualifying medication. I suspect the FAA will mandate a grounding after the shot for a certain amount of time where 99% of any side effects might occur. Simply put in this matter (and in your example) the FAA cares about safety of flight, nothing else.

  8. @Dan777

    After Rogaine was available to the public for thicker, fuller hair, I never knew the FAA was the agency responsible for mandating pilots keep their hairless heads barren of hair growth and banned from using a medical cure for male baldness. Perhaps, this is why so many on-duty pilots always wear a hat. It is good to know the FAA still thinks about safety first.

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