This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), hoping to provide a more standardized approach to crew vaccinations, is recommending aircrew members receive a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as available to them and in new guidance states that those vaccinated should wait 48 hours after each dose before returning to flight duty. Released on March 25, the EASA Safety Information Bulletin (SIB 2021-06) outlines recommended vaccine waiting periods for operators, aeromedical centers, aeromedical examiners (AME), aircrew, and other authorities. The guidance also appealed to national authorities to refrain from implementing different aircraft vaccination waiting periods unless justified by medical guidance.
EASA noted that various states have taken different approaches for prioritizing vaccinations, including placing helicopter emergency medical services and air ambulance services in the earliest categories.
These vaccines have been known to produce a range of side effects that are generally mild ranging from headache and mild fever to nausea, dizziness, and gastrointestinal disorders, among others, EASA said. These side effects typically are more frequent between 12 and 48 hours of the vaccines, but in some isolated cases have extended up to seven days. The safety agency expressed concern that some of these side effects may be “further enhanced by in-flight conditions while at cruise level, such as lower air pressure and mild hypoxic environment.”
Currently, no evidence is available on the impact of in-flight conditions, EASA said. Even so, the agency said flight crews should still become vaccinated as soon as possible given their increased exposure. But given that the vaccines are new, it is recommending crews wait 48 hours before returning to flight duty—a recommendation that has been in line with the FAA’s approach.
However, EASA said the waiting interval could be extended to 72 hours for aircraft members in single-pilot operations and advised crewmembers to contact their AMEs and potentially wait longer if side effects persist.