U.S. airline workers seeking priority for COVID vaccine

December 10, 2020, 7:50 PM UTC

Airline employees should move near the front of the line for receiving the coronavirus vaccines to ensure its smooth shipment by air cargo, a coalition of 17 industry groups told U.S. health officials Thursday.

Airline workers face higher risks of infection because they must interact with the public or work in close proximity to coworkers, and therefore deserve to be treated the same way as other critical infrastructure workers, the groups said.

“Given the scientific, implementation and ethical considerations, we ask that you prioritize these frontline aviation workers in the next phase of vaccine allocation,” the letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The largest union of U.S. airline pilots, which signed the letter, is separately asking lawmakers to give cockpit crews preference for receiving the coronavirus vaccine.

Cargo-airline pilots “have experienced an alarming increase in Covid-19 exposure and infections,” Joseph DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, said in a letter to Senate lawmakers dated Wednesday.

Congress and the administration should recognize pilots as a critical link in the supply chain, DePete said.

“Ensuring this prioritization will allow the logistical component of transporting the vaccine to continue unencumbered,” he said in the letter. ALPA is also seeking an extension of federal aid to airlines protecting jobs “to ensure a robust supply chain,” DePete said.

The U.S. government is expected to approve initial use of a coronavirus vaccine as soon as this week. The 17 groups — which include the Airlines for America trade group, other pilot unions and associations representing cargo haulers — want airline employees to begin receiving the vaccine after the initial wave of health care workers and assisted living residents.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a statement earlier this week saying it’s closely monitoring the vaccine trials and weighing whether it will impose any restrictions on how pilots receive it. In some cases, when the vaccine prompts side effects, the FAA will require pilots to wait from one to three days before flying after receiving a jab.

FedEx Corp. hired 70,000 workers to support both the surge in holiday package delivery and vaccine distribution in the coming weeks, Richard Smith, the company’s regional president of the Americas and executive vice president, told a Senate hearing Thursday.

ALPA, which represents FedEx pilots, has about 59,000 members in the U.S. and Canada.