Dec. 20, 2020

The FAA’s orders allowing airmen and air traffic controllers to receive the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines without risk to their medical certificates is a powerful boost for business aviation, but, as experts in the latest NBAA News Hour discussed, operators must remain cautious and continue to employ safety measures to limit the spread of the virus.

“By following the FDA’s scientific analysis, the FAA did an amazing job getting out ahead of this to make sure the aviation community did not have to be in a position of risking our jobs over risking our health,” Doug Carr, NBAA’s vice president, regulatory and international affairs, said during the webinar titled, “COVID-19 Vaccine in Aviation – All Your Questions Answered.”

Carr also noted that NBAA is continuing to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to determine how business aviation can assist in the distribution of all vaccines. Also, the association is helping operators understand the safety implications of the FAA’s recent guidance on transporting vaccines that require large amounts of dry ice, a product that is classified as a hazardous material.

Read more on FAA’s Safety Alert for Operators.

Moderated by Dylan Miller, the webinar examined what airmen should expect now that the FAA order is in effect.

“The CDC, which makes recommendations to Department Health and Human Services and the public on vaccine schedules and vaccine recommendations, is developing priority groups in terms of need and who should be given the highest priorities across the country,” explained Dr. Michael Wolf, senior aviation medical examiner, Mayo Clinic. “Some pilots will be in the earlier groups to receive this vaccine and these will include individuals in aeromedical transport services, as well as groups in the transportation industry that are deemed critical in maintaining the economy.”

“Practically speaking, because of the production and distribution challenges that we face [with some vaccines] pilots probably won’t have a choice about which one they take,” said Dr. Quay Snyder, M.D., president, CEO and co-founder, Aviation Medicine Advisory Services.
The FAA requires pilots to refrain from flying for 48 hours after receiving either vaccine. The Moderna vaccine requires the two doses be taken 28 days apart, while the Pfizer vaccine doses must be split by a 21-day waiting period.

“Every vaccine has the possibility of side effects and this is no different, said Dr. Paulo M. Alves, M.D., MSc, FAsMA, global director aviation health, MedAire, “Typically, they are mild with some soreness at the injection site and maybe some systemic effects such as headaches, muscle pain, fever and in a few cases some nausea.”

Alves added, it is essential for those getting the vaccine to get both doses.
The News Hour panelists also advised pilots to document their vaccination, and said everyone should expect a card after receiving their first dose stating the date of injection and type of vaccine used. Once a second dose is documented, pilots will be able to use this card as verification, at least until a digital alternative is available.

However, airmen should not expect the vaccines to dramatically impact international travel, at least in the short-term, said Carr, adding NBAA is strongly opposed to vaccinations being mandated for entry into another country, and is urging the international community to employ parallel measures to facilitate the return of international travel.

This is a prudent approach, as the COVID-19 vaccines are not a panacea. As Wolf noted, the full impact of the COVID-19 vaccines is still unknown, and the medical community still must determine many factors, including the duration of immunity granted by the vaccines and if those vaccinated can carry and transmit the virus.

“Everybody still needs to exercise due diligence,” Wolf said. ”We still need to socially distance, wear a mask and wash hands regularly. Even if you have been vaccinated, this isn’t yet a free pass.”