December 28, 2020

COVID Vaccine Updates for Pilots

ALPA continues to receive calls and DARTs from members asking the status of flight crews taking COVID-19 vaccines.

In addition to working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transport Canada (TC) for swift approval for pilots to be vaccinated, ALPA has also been working to get flight crews voluntary access to vaccines once they receive government approval and are available to essential workers.

On December 11, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. On December 12, the FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine adopted a policy change allowing the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for holders of FAA-issued Airman Medical Certificates or Medical Clearances with the following conditions:

  • A 48-hour no fly/no safety-related-duty interval must be observed after each dose.
  • Before returning to duty, pilots should be free of any significant side effects from the vaccine.

On December 18, the FDA granted an EUA for the vaccine produced by Moderna Therapeutics, and on December 19, the FAA adopted a policy change for use of this second vaccine by airline pilots, subject to the same conditions as the Pfizer vaccine.

Currently, the FAA only allows the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for use by medical certificate holders. Other COVID-19 vaccines will be individually considered by the FAA following granting of each FDA EUA. Pilots should not participate in trials of other manufacturers’ COVID vaccines at this time.

Read more from FAA

In early December, the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended prioritizing the initial phase of the vaccination. Priority would be given to frontline health workers, along with residents and workers in long-term care facilities.

In Canada

On December 9, Health Canada authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use, and on December 23, the regulator also authorized the Moderna Therapeutics vaccine. Prioritization of available vaccines in Canada is ongoing.

TC has stated that taking a vaccine that has been approved by Health Canada will not result in restrictions or limitations to aviators. TC Civil Aviation Medicine does not impose grounding periods for aviators wishing to take vaccines approved by Health Canada. TC has advised, however, that participating in any vaccine clinical trial is incompatible with medical certification. 

Read more from TC.

Further information regarding immunizations can be found in the Aeronautical Information Manual 3.13.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) previously stated that initial vaccine supply in Canada would be used for residents of senior living centers, health-care workers in care settings or those with direct contact with patients, people over the age of 80, and adults in indigenous communities. NACI has noted they may update or reevaluate the vaccine approach as more vaccine characteristics are defined.

ALPA is actively engaged in this issue on all fronts in the United States and Canada; additional information will be published here as it becomes available.