FAA Prepared To Move Quickly on Covid Vaccines

 - December 7, 2020, 12:22 PM

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

The FAA is watching the deliberations of the first rounds of possibly available Covid-19 vaccines and plans to evaluate potential pilot use as soon as they gain emergency authorization, the agency said. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is set to meet on December 10 to discuss the request for emergency use authorization of the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech Manufacturing and has scheduled a similar meeting on December 17 to review a similar request from Moderna.

The FAA’s plans to move quickly on use of the vaccine comes as a number of pilots have raised concerns about whether taking the vaccine could affect their medical status and as a number of the aviation associations have reached out to the agency on the issue. “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,” the agency said in a statement.

While the FAA has not revealed its plans for use of the various vaccines, the agency might include general precautions about a short waiting time, such as between 24 hours and 72 hours, after taking the vaccine before flying to ensure there are no side effects.

John McGraw, v-p of regulatory affairs for the National Air Transportation Association, noted that the FAA has approached the Covid-19 virus, for the most part, as it has other viruses such as the flu. “So far what we’ve heard from the FAA has been consistent with how they’ve treated things in the past,” he said.

The agency does recommend pilots schedule waiting periods after taking a vaccine, but “it is not a disqualifying event,” he said. "Unless there is something truly unique about this vaccine in terms of the side effects, I would expect the FAA to take the same posture.”

McGraw cautioned, however, “You do have a responsibility that you do feel fit to fly.”

During last week’s NBAA-VBACE, Doug Carr, v-p regulatory and international affairs for NBAA, also noted the questions from the pilot community and said from the insight that the association has received, “We think this is going to be a very manageable process for pilots who do decide to get the vaccine with hopefully very minimal impact to any flight operations.”

While adding that they hope to receive word from the FAA soon, he cautioned about using the vaccine in absence of authorization, saying that use of unapproved vaccines could cause groundings.