The European Union Aviation Safety Agency published a Safety Information Bulletin containing operational recommendations related to the vaccination of aircrew.
The WHO recommends prioritizing transport workers, which include aircrew, in phase 3 of the vaccination, unless they have additional risk factors, in which case they would be prioritized on an individual basis. Nevertheless, several States have included among their priority lists for phase 1 and/or phase 2 the crew members involved in helicopter emergency medical services and air ambulance services, some of whom may have already received one dose of vaccine prior to the issuance of this SIB.
In the documentation provided by the EMA, as part of the assessment process of the vaccine, as well as other published studies regarding the vaccines approved for use in Europe, it can be noticed that some adverse reactions can result following the vaccination. These side effects are generally mild and usually common to any type of vaccine, e.g. headache, mild fever, nausea, pain at the site of injection, dizziness, gastrointestinal disorders, lymphadenopathy, thromboembolic events, etc. These side effects have shown to be more frequent between 12 and 48 hours following the vaccination and, in isolated cases, with a potential extended duration of up to 7 days. Severe side effects are extremely rare and were cited to be more frequent among the persons with multiple allergies and tend to appear immediately, in the first 30 minutes following the vaccination. Side effects were also reported more frequent following the second dose of the vaccine.
Although the vast majority of side effects reported so far are mild and do not put into question in any way the safety of the approved vaccines, they may be further enhanced by in-flight conditions while at cruise level, such as lower air pressure and mild hypoxic environment.
At this time, no evidence is available regarding the impact of in-flight conditions on the severity of the side effects, nor on the resulting impact on the performance of the crew members during their safety-related tasks. For these reasons, taking into account that these vaccines are new pharmacological products, EASA issued the current SIB providing recommendations for the National Competent Authorities (NCAs), aircraft operators, aero-medical centres (AeMCs), aero-medical examiners (AMEs) and aircrew members in order to ensure that the side effects described above do not interfere with the completion of any safety-related tasks.