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FAA approves second COVID-19 vaccine

The FAA approved the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for pilots and air traffic controllers on December 19, requiring the same 48-hour wait period before “conducting safety-sensitive aviation duties,” as it did for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The FAA has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for pilots and air traffic controllers, requiring the same 48-hour wait period before “conducting safety-sensitive aviation duties.” The vaccines must receive special handling at each step of the delivery process. Photo courtesy of UPS Inc.

The policy was released one day after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for the Moderna vaccine. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received FDA authorization on December 11 and was permitted by the FAA on December 12.

“Holders of FAA-issued Airman Medical Certificates or Medical Clearances may receive the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine; however, a 48-hour no fly/no safety related duty interval must be observed after each dose,” the FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine said.

The agency reminded pilots and air traffic controllers that “they are prohibited from performing flight crewmember duties or air traffic control duties if they do not meet medical certification requirements, including those related to adverse events from medications that render them unable to perform such duties.”

As the FDA authorizes additional vaccines, the FAA will evaluate and release policies. The agency reiterated that it would “monitor the patient response to Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and may adjust this policy as necessary to ensure aviation safety.”

Air traffic controllers and pilots played a critical role in the shipment of the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 13 when UPS Inc. Vice President of Flight Operations and Safety Houston Mills (an AOPA member) and first officer Neal Newell flew the cargo from Lansing, Michigan, to Louisville, Kentucky.

“Pilots and air traffic controllers are key players in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, as evidenced throughout the year by delivering personal protective equipment and more recently by transporting the vaccines,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “I am pleased the FAA is acting quickly to evaluate and allow pilots and controllers to take either of the FDA-approved vaccines and return to work and flying after a short period.”

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

The former senior director of digital media, Alyssa J. Cobb was on the AOPA staff from 2004 until 2023. She is a flight instructor, and loves flying her Cessna 170B with her husband and two children. Alyssa also hosts the weekly Fly with AOPA show on the AOPA Pilot Video YouTube channel.
Topics: Advocacy, Pilot Health and Medical Certification, COVID19

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