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Airlines Want Workers Deemed Essential as Vaccines Roll Out

Madhu Unnikrishnan
December 15th, 2020 at 2:32 PM EST

Frontline healthcare workers in several countries already are being inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine, and the Moderna vaccine is expected to be approved and distributed soon. But a limited supply of doses has groups representing all sectors from farm workers to firefighters lobbying for their employees to be next in line. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has added its voice, imploring governments around the world to prioritize airline employees

IATA pointed to World Health Organization pandemic guidelines that call for governments to classify transportation workers as essential employees, as necessary to the functioning of society as healthcare workers and police. “We are not asking for aviation workers to be on top of the list, but we need governments to ensure that transportation workers are considered as essential when vaccine roll-out plans are developed,” IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac said in a statement.

The group noted that air transport is critical to transporting the vaccine itself, and therefore workers should get priority in the vaccine line. “The transportation of the COVID-19 vaccines has already begun, and as calculations show, it will require the equivalent of 8,000 Boeing 747 freighter aircraft for global distribution,” de Juniac added. “It is therefore essential that we have the qualified workforce in place to ensure a functioning logistics chain.”

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the FAA issued its guidelines on pilot inoculations. The regulator approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for pilots, but it requires pilots to wait 48 hours after each dose of the the shot before returning to the cockpit. This is to ensure that no pilot is impaired by potential side effects during flight. The guidelines do not yet apply to the Moderna vaccine, as the regulator will assess that vaccine’s potential side effects separately. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses spaced about a month apart to confer immunity.

The U.S. government approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 11. The U.K. and Canada began administering the vaccine last week. The U.S. has bought 100 million doses of the vaccine and is negotiating to buy up to 500 million more. Pfizer is expected to produce up to 50 million doses this year, distributed worldwide, and could produce close to 2 billion doses next year.

The Air Line Pilots Association is working with its members and the FAA to get pilots voluntary access to the vaccine as soon as it is approved for essential workers, the union said.

Madhu Unnikrishnan
December 15th, 2020 at 2:32 PM EST

Photo credit:  Unsplash / Jon Flobrant

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