Airline workers push to be among first groups to get COVID-19 vaccine

As a COVID-19 vaccine is on the cusp of rolling out in the United States, frontline airline workers are campaigning to move up in the vaccine priority line. 

More than a dozen airline and aviation unions asked the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices in a Thursday letter to prioritize “frontline aviation workers in the next phase of vaccine allocation (Phase 1b) after health workers and residents in long term facilities in your upcoming recommendations to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

The ACIP is an independent group convened by the CDC to offer advice on who should get specific vaccines and when. 

The letter, signed by Airlines for America, the Association of Flight Attendants, International Air Transport Association, the Airline Pilots Association and 13 other groups, notes that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency “has designated aviation workers as essential to maintaining our nation’s critical infrastructure.”

“In addition, aviation workers are also frontline workers who either encounter the traveling public frequently or are required to perform our work in close proximity to our colleagues and require us to be onsite,” the letter continues. 

“Air transportation will be essential to fight back against the virus and return to normal, even if it is a new normal,” the signatories conclude, noting that air transport will also be a key component to the vaccine rollout. 

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The first FDA-authorized vaccine is expected to come from Pfizer and requires ultracold storage at -70℉. It is shipped in cartons that each contain 975 doses.

Assuming a review committee Thursday recommends the vaccine, the FDA is expected to move quickly to authorize it. A mass inoculation campaign could beginin the U.S. as soon as this week, with the federal government turning over millions of doses to the states and territories.

Different distribution plans may mean wide variations in what the rollout looks like as it expands across the nation, though public health officials hope states will follow the ACIP recommendations. 

Earlier this month, the ACIP voted to add nursing home residents to the first group to be vaccinated in Phase 1a, along with health care personnel. In a Dec. 1 presentation, the group indicated “essential workers” could be in Phase 1b with examples including “education sector, food & agriculture, police, firefighters, corrections officers and transportation,” though specifics are not yet clear.

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People 65 and older and those with multiple underlying illnesses are expected to be next in line. 

The ACIP said in a Dec. 3 report that it will “consider vaccine-specific recommendations and additional populations for vaccine allocation beyond Phase 1a when an FDA-authorized vaccine is available.”

Meetings have been set for Friday and Sunday.

Contributing: Elizabeth Weise, Karen Weintraub

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