With welcome news of the COVID-19 vaccines, there have been some common questions regarding the vaccine and volunteer pilots. Can they deliver it? Can they receive priority to get it? Read on to learn more…
Which vaccines are approved by the FAA for use by pilots and are there any special considerations?
Can volunteer pilots receive higher priority for vaccination?
Volunteer pilot organizations that wish to have their pilots considered for higher vaccination priority should review the allocation guidelines in the states they serve and contact the state health departments to determine if pilots flying for them might be included in the prioritized groups.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is the panel of experts that makes recommendations on which groups should be prioritized. The ACIP has provided governors and health officials with a framework of COVID-19 vaccine allocation and has offered guidance on who is considered an essential worker. It is ultimately up to individual state governments whether to follow ACIP’s prioritization recommendations. Policies and logistics for vaccination priority vary by state and many states are in the process of finalizing their vaccine distribution plans. If and when priority vaccinations are available for volunteers in your state, your organization should be able to give you any necessary documentation and advise you where you can get vaccinated.
Will volunteer pilots be called upon to help transport the vaccine?
While there is much in the news about the challenges of distributing the vaccine, it is still unclear whether there will be any major need for volunteer pilots to help in this regard.
Distribution of vaccines is being left up to individual states and each state is developing and deploying its own plan for distribution. Unlike PPE or other medical supplies, vaccine distribution is highly controlled. It is largely being accomplished through public-private partnerships at state and local levels with distribution by contractors such as FedEx, UPS, and others, following strict chain-of-custody and temperature control protocols.
Some inaccurate news stories have circulated stating that volunteer pilots for Angel Flight Soars were delivering vaccines. These reports were false and a result of a miscommunication. What was actually being delivered was COVID-19 test specimens. Angel Flight Soars is working to correct the message with news media outlets.
To date, there has been only one instance of volunteer pilots helping to deliver the vaccine. On December 15th, the South Dakota Wing of the Civil Air Patrol transported the vaccine on behalf of the South Dakota Department of Health, at the DOH request. While the Civil Air Patrol does utilize volunteer pilots, its structure, training requirements, and mission is much different from typical ACA volunteer pilot organizations.
ACA is proactively working to position volunteer pilot groups to serve in the best ways they can, when and if they are needed. We have connected with the Association of Immunization Managers, a national organization that supports immunization efforts in all states and territories. While AIM is aware that ACA member organizations are available and ready to assist, there has been no defined need as of yet.
Where can I find out more information about my State’s vaccine distribution program?
Many States are in the process of finalizing their vaccine distribution plans. The public should continue to check their State Department of Health/COVID-19 websites for updates regarding vaccine distribution. The CDC has links to State and local websites on this webpage: CDC Health Gateway Site.
For additional information about COVID-19 vaccination plans, please visit CDC’s Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions Site.
CDC Vaccination Program Interim Playbook – (page 29 starts distribution info)