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FAA clears pilots to receive Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

Airforwarders seek top vaccine status from states as CDC prepares final priority list

Pilots are expected to be in the second tier of priority groups to receive the new COVID-19 vaccine. (Image: Flickr/John Christian Fjellestad)

The Federal Aviation Administration on Saturday determined that commercial pilots and air traffic controllers subject to FAA medical clearance may receive Pfizer Inc.’s (NYSE: PFE) newly approved COVID-19 vaccine.

The Food and Drug Administration Friday night authorized the vaccine’s public use on an emergency basis after an extensive review of its safety and ability to protect against the virus, which has claimed nearly 300,000 lives in the U.S.

The Air Line Pilots Association earlier this week urged the FAA to quickly approve the vaccine for pilots so they don’t violate medical certifications by taking the drug. 

The FAA said it will require aviation professionals with medical certifications or clearances to observe a 48-hour waiting period following the administration of the vaccine before conducting safety-related aviation duties, such as flying or controlling air traffic, as a precaution against side effects.

Because the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, 21 days apart for maximum effectiveness, this waiting period applies after each dose, the FAA said.

“The agency’s medical professionals will continuously monitor the initial distribution of the novel vaccine and documented clinical results and will adjust these recommendations as needed,” the FAA statement said.

The FAA will evaluate vaccines from other manufacturers as they receive FDA authorization in the coming weeks and months and will advise pilots and air traffic controllers of any waiting periods required for those vaccines.

Pilots likely will be in the second tier of priority candidates to receive the vaccine after frontline medical workers and those in long-term care facilities.

CDC and essential workers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this weekend is expected to finalize its priority list for who receives the vaccine first. An agency panel has recommended that Group One-B include transportation workers.

Freight interests and pilots have pressed the administration and Congress to make sure they are in the secondary tier. 

On Friday, the Airforwarders Association urged a dozen state medical directors to prioritize COVID vaccinations for warehouse workers, truckers and security screeners involved in airfreight by elevating them to Tier 1 vaccine status. Currently, essential workers in air cargo are slated for Tier 2.

The 12 states, including Oregon and Michigan, were selected because they have major international gateway airports.

“Freight transport workers are currently involved in transporting raw materials and component chemicals for vaccines under development and the supplies necessary to bottle, package, transport, and administer the vaccine nationwide,” as well as personal protective equipment and electronics for distance learning and working from home during the pandemic Executive Director Brandon Fried said in a letter. “Their role to date underscores their need to be prioritized.

“The handling of cargo necessitates working at less than the recommended six feet of distance, and in enclosed, unventilated spaces like aircraft cargo holds. Utilizing machinery and manual processes, these workers load and unload cargo from planes, assemble large pallets of freight to ship, break them down and repalletize them upon receipt to truckers who deliver them to recipients.” 

Any outbreak that causes workers to get sick could impact the supply chain because it can take weeks to train and get security clearances from the Transportation Security Administration for new hires, he added.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch. / Contact: [email protected]


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One Comment

  1. Stephen Webster

    Health care workers need to get the vaccine first. Next people over 75 or in long term care. Airplanes crews helicopter crews and other first responders. Need to look at the person job and importance. First responders border patrol , certain military positions are important. While do not like the idea. Certain essential workers including cross border truck drivers supervisors in air freight Ware houses police, fire, making over $25.00 per hour cd including danger pay should get the Vaccine next.

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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. In December 2022, he was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]