FAA Reviewing Whether Pilots Can Take COVID Vaccine


The FAA says it hasn’t yet determined whether pilots will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and keep their medicals. In a statement issued to AVweb late Sunday, the agency said it’s waiting for the outcome of an FDA committee meeting on an emergency approval for a vaccine developed by Pfizer. The meeting is scheduled for Dec. 8-10 in Washington. “The FAA is closely monitoring the active vaccine trials and awaiting the outcome of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee’s scheduled meeting next week …” the agency said in an email to AVweb. “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.”

Meanwhile, the Air Line Pilots Association is telling its members to not take part in clinical trials for vaccines because they’ll lose their medicals, perhaps for a long time. “… since no trial COVID-19 vaccine has full FDA approval, the FAA considers participation in COVID-19 vaccine trials medically disqualifying for pilots for an indefinite period,” ALPA said in a brief article on the effects of the pandemic. “ALPA representatives are working with the FAA to better define a policy as the science evolves.” The FAA declined to comment on ALPA’s assertions. The union is also warning its Canadian members not to roll up their sleeves for science. “In Canada, the director of Civil Aviation Medicine stated that participation in medical trials isn’t considered compatible with aviation medical certification,” the article said.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Looks like the bureaucrats at the FAA may have made the decision for me on whether to get vaccinated or not. The FAA is really playing with fire on this one. If COVID becomes prevalent among professional pilots this decision could cripple aviation, especially if pilots ignore any FAA guidance not to get vaccinated.

    • COVID is just another low-risk virus to most pilots, as they fall within the ‘low-risk’ age-range. Probably even more so as they are generally healthy. So it would be most unlikely to ‘cripple aviation’!

      • Low risk for death, maybe. Not as low risk for the many lingering symptoms, most of them disqualifying for a pilot, that many infected with Covid suffer with for months or longer after “recovering.” Pretty crippling if it happens to you.

          • It’s not low risk when there’s a 2% chance of dying and around a 10% chance of developing a long-term symptom. Some sources think it could be up to 15% of cases turn in to long-term symptoms. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t go flying if there was a 10-15% chance that I could die or be crippled after each flight.

          • That’s simply not known for certain, is it? It’s *can’t* be, yet. But heart inflammation is being detected in many “mild” cases. And how many effects won’t be known to be connected, because people wouldn’t get tested?
            Think of this as cramming before a big exam: a virus even more nasty.

    • I have friends that work for the gov and miltary. They are being told not to vaccinate and the miltary says they want to wait two years before requiring soliders to take. Maybe the gov knows more then they are telling us about the safety and side effects of the vacs.

      • You have a lot more confidence than I do that different arms of the government talk to each other, never mind whether they can agree on anything.

  2. Yet another example of why the medical should be abolished. Many of us get flu vaccines every year, which are new formulations every year, and that’s just fine, but somehow this isn’t. There’s no viable mechanism how COVID can cause a person without symptoms to experience sudden incapacitation while flying, yet the FAA aeromedical high priests in OKC have to gum up the process here with this FUD about a vaccine.

  3. Lets see here, I have been flying since 1964, probably longer than most FAA employees have been alive. I regulate myself even though I have a valid medical and don’t fly when I don’t feel physically or mentally fit to fly. Now I am faced with a choice, take the vaccine and live but not ever fly again, or don’t take it and have a high probability of getting COVID19 which can take my life. At the moment it is a no brainer, I will take the vaccine just as I have taken every other vaccine that has kept me safe from catching what ever. Someone is not using their heads in the FAA once again.

      • You may survive but have lingering effects that disqualify you from flying. Also, “99% over all,” or 99% for ages X to Y but not Y to Z?

      • Google “Covid long haulers” and get back to us. The lingering health damage to many survivors would kick us out of the cockpit forever.

      • Ah… the fallacy of small or large numbers…

        First, COVID has about a 2% mortality rate, not just 1%.
        And the spread is highly exponential, meaning that with an R0 of about 4.9, you are likely to infect about 5 people if you get it!
        So just do the math. If you are patient zero, it only takes about three infection cycles until somebody dies.
        We are currently experiencing what amounts to a 9/11 every single day! That is no joke, it is a matter of life and death!

        • We have had several pilots I know personal in my airline who have had it many back in March with no effects from it at all.

          • I know several people who are not starving, so therefore no one in the world is starving…

            I *do* know people who had covid with some pretty nasty effects after the primary symptoms went away.

            Most people will recover from the flu just fine, but there are some people for whom it will be terminal. It’s a relatively small percentage, but nevertheless thousands (I believe) die in the US from it every year. And the percentage of people who will die or have long-term effects from covid is much higher than for the flu.

      • Also, this vaccine is not the “run of the mill” vaccine. It’s a new version, RNA or mRNA which transfects molecules of synthetic RNA into human cells. Once inside the cells, the RNA functions as mRNA reprogramming the cells to make the foreign protein that would normally be produced by the pathogen (e.g. virus), or by cancer cells.

        Long story short, Autoimmunity and reactogenicity have been highlighted as possible side-effects. Up until December 2020, no mRNA vaccine, drug or technology platform had ever been approved for use in humans.

        Long story short, I’ll take my chances with my God Given immune system! Drinking Tonic water with quinine. Zinc and Vitamin C and D.

        • Apparently mRNA drugs have been used for experimental cancer treatment for several years, and they have been studied for even longer in animals. It is new for a mass-distributed vaccine, but not new in and of itself.

          It seems there are greater instances of adverse effects to this covid vaccine than a typical flu vaccine, but that appears to be more a result of the delivery of the vaccine than the vaccine (the mRNA encoding) itself. What I can find is that it is a safe vaccine, though it may be unpleasant for a day or two afterwards. But that’s still better than getting covid if it leads to death or other long-term effects.

          So after reading about it, I can see why the FAA might feel the way they do. I still disagree with it, though. They should simply say that to be safe, you can’t fly for a week after getting either dose, but if you otherwise feel fine afterwards it should be no different than taking any other OTC medication that has temporary side effects (like some allergy medications).

        • Quinine isn’t the greatest thing to drink – kidney damage and abnormal heartbeat are common side effects – wife was a tonic water with quinine drinker and her doc told her to stop after developing kidney issues.

  4. Seems to me that all the commenters here failed to read the article.

    The FAA is saying, “Don’t participate in a trial or get the vaccine before it’s FDA approved.” Once a particular vaccine gets approval, they have promised to move quickly to decide what that means for pilots. My expectation is that they will approve them, one by one as the FDA first does so.

    It’s just common sense that the FAA wouldn’t look kindly on pilots taking unapproved medications of whatever sort, that is a slippery slope. But nothing the FAA has said leads me to think they won’t do the right thing once vaccines gain FDA approval.

    • That’s what I read also….wait until it gets FDA approval. The FAA can’t approve use of something until it gets an official blessing by medical authorities. But, you won’t have the shot available for you until then anyhow. Kind of a non issue at the moment….it seems to me.

    • It’s still a confusing and frankly shocking thing for the FAA to say, since it doesn’t say if you’ll ever be able to get your medical back if you get the vaccine before it is FDA-approved. And does “FDA-approval” include the FDA emergency authorization, or final-final approval (which could take longer than the vaccine will take to reach the general population)?

      The FAA is basically saying, take the vaccine before FDA approval and risk losing your medical indefinitely, or risk getting covid and potentially losing your medical indefinitely due to long-term effects. That sounds like an impossible choice for some people.

    • I can understand the position of it being disqualifying while it is in the testing phase.

      I do however expect that once it is approved by the FDA that the FAA will approve it for use by pilots, I also expect the FAA guidance to be something like you must wait X days after the injection and have no lingering side effects before resuming cockpit duties. I’m saying the wait is based upon the news reports of feeling malaise a day or two after the injection.

  5. I don’t have much use for the FAA or their ability to make good decision making (WAIT! Aren’t we pilots supposed to be good at that?). And now we have to wonder if admitting to taking a virus shot might render us grounded! Is there anyone “home” at 800 Independence or OKC? If EVER there was a perfect example of a Catch-22 situation for aviators … this’d be it. I can’t even take my emotional support croc with me while riding as a passenger anymore (sic).

  6. It looks to me that the outgoing administration is doing what they have done the hole year: Not being happy until they have or have helped murder as many people as possible.
    The FAA is just leaving behind scorched earth for the next administration who is hopefully more concerned with saving lives than taking them!

  7. If the FAA disallows the pilot community from getting a COVID vaccine, it will be the dumbest public health decision ever, and totally inconsistent with allowing other vaccines with similar, extremely low risks. Adverse reactions to vaccines don’t generally suddenly incapacitate individuals, and are generally mild and transient, allowing appropriate self evaluation. The current recommendation is to wait a few days after dosing to allow typical mild to moderate reactions to abate. Longer term effects, if any, can be evaluated like any other illness.

    • Easy choice. If the FAA ultimately disapproves the COVID vaccine, I’ll get vaccinated and sell the airplane.

      • Exactly my point on my first comment. Just imagine airline pilots deciding to get vaccinated without the FAAs blessing, not totally unreasonable considering how much the various airline pilot unions have complained about a lack of a FAA passenger mask mandate. What a way to ground airliners due to crews getting vaccinated from an ailment vaccine the FAA will not approve, therefore making pilots not “medically fit” in the eyes of the FAA. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out.

  8. Question:
    Is use of any drug under an EUA considered to be “participation in a clinical trial?”

    Next question:
    Is “participating in a clinical trial” disqualifying, under BasicMed? With no medical certification at all?

    • That was my first question too. If BasicMed is not a medical, then does the FAA consider taking the vaccine disqualifying for those pilots as well? Since I am in an age groups that is high risk for dying from the virus, my doctor feels I should take the vaccine for my protection. Since my personal physician is the person who determines my fitness to fly, can the FAA overrule them?

  9. Sigh. This is not the Federal Guvment knowing something that they aren’t telling us. This is a professional medical certification organization doing its job. These vaccines aren’t approved for general use yet except in the UK. Once they are approved, and once safety is further confirmed in the very large numbers who will be getting it (as in no very rare debilitating side effects), of course FAA will approve these for pilots to protect the workforce. If there are very rare negative side effects, the FAA will build rules for how to manage that risk, which is almost certain to be far lower than the risks associated with getting COVD. The percentage of “long hauler” consequences isn’t known precisely yet because of variable reporting, but it’s well over 1%, including in younger age groups. We’re talking significant autonomic nervous system interference, inability to sit or stand without tachycardia, etc. We don’t want to play roulette with this virus with the aviation workforce — it will be MUCH safer to vaccinate.

  10. This is another, entirely expected, FAA intrusion into our lives which seems to exist in large part to discourage pilots from taking to the skies. But, remember, they’re “here to help.”

  11. Step into the new century. Outdated suppositions about vaccines and epidemiology seem to be hampering the return to a functioning society. It’s no different here in this comment section. Pilots should be accustomed to reading and understanding by now. Those who claim that this vaccine alters your DNA and those who deny the implications of the virus need to ask their mommies which direction the school is from her basement. Have her take you back there and leave you for a while. Frankly, with a 95% efficacy or efficiency rate, those vaccinated don’t really need the deniers to be vaccinated at all. The educated folks will get vaccinated and leave the rest to their chosen fate. It’s not like the flu, where you need 50% vaccination to bring the numbers down. Vaccinated folks will just go back to work and play. The deniers can fill the hospitals and morgues. Do any of you remember that time when you got polio and died from it? Of course, you don’t. Because there’s a vaccine for it. Learn to read something other than your drunk uncle’s Facebook posts. Drag yourself and your family into the new century. Get vaccinated and move on.

    • To be fair, I can see there being some sympathy with this particular vaccine, since it’s using a new-for-widespread-distribution method. I’m also concerned that the FDA may be politically pressured to approve the vaccine when it might otherwise require more testing, since other government agencies have been similarly pressured to provide misleading information (like the CDC was earlier this year). Hopefully the career scientists at the FDA will be allowed to do their thing, though.

      Even so, I still expect to receive the vaccine when it is available to the general public. Since I don’t fall into any of the priority groups, there should be plenty of data by then to know what my risks are, and what precautions I should take should I be one of the minority of people who have a moderate-to-severe temporary adverse reaction.

  12. We all have our views on the Covid situation, but let’s not forget that we live in the United States. We all have the right to decide what goes into our bodies and what does not. The United States is fundamentally based on the concept of personal sovereignty. I hope we can all agree on that vaccination should always remain a personal choice and should never be allowed to become mandatory in any situation.

    • Not quite that simple. By getting vaccinated you are not only protecting yourself, but you are protecting those around you. Your argument could be extended to say that everybody gets to choose whether to pay attention to red lights or whether to bother ATC when you fly into Class B airspace because of “personal sovereignty.” It doesn’t work that way because you would be putting others at risk. There are some responsibilities that come with living in a society. Making personal decisions that are potentially detrimental to that society should fairly come with tradeoffs on access to the benefits of that society.

  13. Yars:
    Is use of any drug under an EUA considered to be “participation in a clinical trial?”

    Good point. Has it come to THIS–that a vaccine developed by and distributed to the general public by the Government can’t be used by pilot/citizens UNTIL THE FAA (another GOVERNMENT AGENCY) says it is OK to do so? Remember in school the old phrase “There ain’t no law AGAINST it!” (admittedly, that was long ago!)

    WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO US? We now need the government OK to take a medicine developed and distributed by that same government to the general population? Think about it–it USED to be that you could do anything that there was no law prohibiting you from engaging in an action–but today, you need permission in order to ingest something? Consider how ludicrous that can be–it’s OK to uptake marijuana–as long as you don’t operate a vehicle while “under the influence”. It’s OK to use alcohol under those same limitations. With the “decriminalization” of drugs, you can put most anything into your body you want to, as long as you are not “under the influence.”

    Consider how ludicrous this would be–a person living in nearly any large city has to put up with needles and syringes on the street–and the people that leave them there aren’t prosecuted–yet we are supposed to get the government’s “permission” for using a vaccine paid for, developed, and distributed by the government to the general population until yet ANOTHER government agency (the FAA) takes months to deem it OK for us to do so?

    If the FAA REALLY THINKS this is a “problem”–they should FOLLOW THEIR OWN RULES, and start their rule-making and commentary process right away. As usual, it will take them several years–by which time, it will have proven worthy or non-worthy. The comments will lampoon their entire process. The very THOUGHT that people actually take the FAA approval requirement seriously is as frightening as the disease itself!

  14. What has been proven numerous times is there is zero correlation between FAA Class X Medical and fitness to fly. Phase I and II Testing already has shown that there are no adverse effects from the vaccines that would affect a pilot’s ability to fly safely, other than the daily self assessment. We’re now in PHASE III Efficacy Testing, which pilots should absolutely participate in, as their profession exposes them to frequent virus contact and thus both the risk of catching and spreading the disease.

    mRNA is not a foreign substance to our bodies. Each cell manufactures mRNA. It does not alter our DNA. mRNA has been used to program cells to make therapeutic medications for years. mRNA itself is short lived. The only novelty is to instruct cells to make vaccine antigens and thus stimulate the immune system. These new vaccines appear to produce a superior immune response than exposure to the virus itself. As a physician, I would much prefer to take an mRNA vaccine that a classic vaccine made from an attenuated live virus.

    So once more the FAA comes down on the side of stupidity, lack of vision and lack of understanding.

  15. This article contains significant errors and is in some respects misleading.
    The FAA routinely approves all medications that pilots may and may not take as well as any limitations that must be observed. Everything from aspirin to anti depressants. They will have a position on the vaccine as well.
    Jeffery Kyff,D.O.,
    Senior AME

    • Yes. I feel that the sky has not fallen. But, they, FAA, are not going to bless it until the FDA approves it for our use. And not anywhere has it been implied that it won’t get an FAA blessing then, unless something unexpected occurs from the FDA. Wow.

  16. It is fairly simple, there are several different vaccines that are to be offered. A mRNA technologie has never before been used for vaccines. No long term studies or any accountability by the manufacturer. That is enough for me to simply say not for me or my family. With several different vaccines possibly coming to market, I understand that the FAA is holding back in the interest of the public. Everyone blindly believing in the value of vaccines may really consider to watch the documentaries Vaxed I and II as well as the link from Scott S. upstream. Thanks for reading, G

  17. Based on the news coming out this morning, this may all be a moot point for now. The government has only agreed to purchase the initial allotment of 100 million doses (i.e. 50 million patient treatments) of the Pfizer vaccine. That is only about enough to vaccinate all medical personnel and first responders in the country, and a few people in the high risk categories. Pfizer now says that, since the government failed to exercise their option for more doses, their production is allocated to other countries until June or July before the US can get any more. The government has also only agreed to purchase about 20 million doses of the Moderna vaccine thus far. So, by the time most healthy pilots have access to the vaccine, the effects should be fairly well known.

    Also, the government is notorious for coming out with initial statements that will require a “clarification” or letter of intent to actually say what they really meant. I suspect this is one of those cases, so stay tuned….

  18. Here is the latest from Transport Canada’s perspective on Dec 8, 2020


    · It remains the general position of Transport Canada (TC) Civil Aviation Medicine (CAM) that participation in medical trials is not considered compatible with aviation medical certification. This remains true for the trial of vaccines.

    · However, TC CAM does not restrict or limit aviation medical certificate holders from taking vaccines that have been approved by Health Canada (and the use of which is no longer considered a trial).

    · Furthermore, TC CAM does not impose grounding periods for aviation medical certificate holders who wish to take vaccines approved by Health Canada.

    · The side effect profiles of the various COVID-19 vaccines remain to be clarified. However, assuming that they are similar to influenza vaccines, then the current direction found in the Aeronautical Information Manual will apply:

    · AIM (AIR) 3.13 Immunizations https://tc.canada.ca/sites/default/files/2020-10/aim-2020-2_air-e.pdf : “After receiving routine immunizations, such as flu shots or tetanus shots, pilots should remain at the clinic for the amount of time recommended by their health-care provider. In general, this ranges from 15 to 30 min after the immunization. If the pilot feels well and there is no evidence of an adverse reaction, they may resume flying immediately without restriction.If they feel unwell or experience an adverse reaction, they should wait for 24 hr and be assessed by a health-care provider prior to flying. The Civil Aviation Medicine Branch will monitor any new immunization developments and guidelines, and recommendations will be provided as needed.”

    · Transport Canada will issue alternative direction if necessary; however, the approach outlined above is expected to apply to the COVID-19 immunizations approved by Health Canada.


  19. Lots of drugs are approved for human useage but not all are permitted for those with professional pilot or even private pilot’s licence.

    In our social media, internet turbocharged, politicised age, polarisation happens rapidly and the science (even the fact the science changes with fresh peer reviewed revelations) is often ignored.

    It’s best not to assume one media based side of a debate (USA: CNN/FOX, UK: BBC & Guardian/Telegraph & Daily Mail) is always correct (very often there is an agenda) but to review all official sources, scientific journals from nations with open and honest reporting when it comes to serious issues like SARS COV2.

    That includes seeking out investigative journalism by reputable sources.

    We should all agree that SARS COV2 has caused damage whether as a virus or the collateral damage of the world’s response to it. Personally I’ve lost one “with” covid19 in a care home but several others who couldn’t get treatment due to lockdown restrictions.


    It’s impact on aviation – especially outside of the US is huge.

    One thing we do know is 100 years of pandemic response changed at the end of 2019 after advice from Wuhan:

    1. Lockdown mostly healthy
    2. Mask up mostly healthy
    3. “Test, Test, Test!” referring to hugely expensive “track and trace” PCR mass testing mostly of the healthy. (PCR is a laboratory RNA strand to DNA then amplification technique used as diagnostic tool designed to assist Doctors in determining cases)

    Of the Western nations it appears only Sweden followed the old rules. After a bad Spring in care homes (like NYC, UK and Italy) much criticised Sweden undertook the old sensible restrictions as part of a holistic public health plan. It resulted in lower collateral death , open schools and businesses.

    Much was learnt in the first few months about often detrimental overuse of ventilators and treatments that could help serious cases.

    The mathematical modelling from Imperial College UK and others turned out to be excessive – around a factor of 10. There should be over 520,000 fatalities in UK and 7 million in Europe by now.

    Ah, but lockdowns…… Well a 50 nation study in the Lancet has shown they don’t work. We have plenty of examples, not just Sweden v Illinois USA (similar demographic) or EU nations but Peru (severe lockdown) v Brazil is quite a contrast.

    As for waves, seems it’s like 4 other corona viruses in terms of seasons (Northern hemisphere different to tropics and equatorial regions but first impact biggest unless nation locked down early like NZ or Australia.

    40 years of scientific studies on masks quite different to those (not peer reviewed but) followed in 2020 except for the recent Danish study of over 6000 medical mask wearers.

    Asymptomatic cases and “super-spread events” also in dispute – just look at huge riots and demonstrations around the globe this year and home holiday makers (with air travel restricted) where no signs of viral impact.

    Why so low in Africa and India cf models which should take into account differences in age groups, mixing, community immunity? SARS COV1 (2003) was much more deadly but 80% similar RNA to covid19. Survivors of SARS1 found to have T cell immunity 17 years later.

    WHO revised the IFR of SARS COV2 downward (estimated in March to be 3.4%) after announcing 5 October 2020 that at least 10% of global population has had virus. That’s 780 million people. At that time sadly just over 1 million fatalities. WHO later stated that IFR 0.2% all ages and 0.05% for under 65s without pre existing conditions. Compare this with 80% similar makeup SARS COV1 2003 which had IFR 15% all ages and 55% over 65s.

    USA CDC/ Fauci claimed seasonal flu IFR 0.1% earlier this year. They declared excess 300,000 deaths 2020 of which 100,000 were excess non Covid19 deaths this October. However, compared to previous years the USA all cause mortality is similar but many influenza, cancer, heart disease deaths have been recorded as covid19.


    Given the 2010 H1N1 influenza strain was more virulent than seasonal flu (85% of deaths were under 65 yrs -higher than influenza quality of life years lost) and more infectious than SARS COV2, it is completely reasonable to claim covid19 as similar to a very bad flu.

    Indeed just England and Wales stuffered losses averaging just under 57,000 fatalities from influenza and pneumonia every year between 1996 and 2001 – higher than 2020 covid19. See ONS data. Those Flu fatalities reduced as “flu jabs” ( vaccines) became more available in recent years but those took 5 to 6 years to approve.

    Ref: https://www.who.int/bulletin/online_first/BLT.20.265892.pdf