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Do we really need vaccination mandates for crew?

If you think the debate about ‘masks’ vs. ‘no masks’ during the pandemic was heated, gear up for the next episode: vaccine mandates. In the US and several other countries across the world, vaccine mandates are introduced as a way of boosting vaccination levels. Unsurprisingly, those ideas have reached Europe. Over the past weeks, we saw Swiss and Wizz Air, following the steps of Qantas and airlines in North America, announcing the introduction of mandatory vaccination for their crew. 

Their line of argument is: Some countries have introduced mandatory vaccination and immigration requirements for travelers and crew. It makes it impossible for us to plan our operations if our crew are not fully jabbed. 

Don’t get me wrong – I got my vaccine in May. There is no doubt that vaccines are a safe and effective way to prevent many diseases. COVID-19 is no different. A high vaccination rate will keep the virus at bay, and we all want to put this pandemic behind us, once and for all. However, vaccination mandates’ raison d'être is to protect the public health by stopping the spread of contagious diseases. It is not a tool to facilitate roster or operations planning. 


Vaccination mandates are a way to defeat the pandemic but not the way to solve airlines’ operational issues.

Vaccination mandates are a way to defeat the pandemic but not the way to solve airlines’ operational issues.

If Swiss and Wizz Air think they will magically solve nonsensical government travel restrictions by vaccinating their crew, they will soon be disappointed.
Mandates will bring us to a certain point in vaccination – e.g. 95%. The reality is, that there will always be a small minority in any population, including among pilots, which would not be eligible or willing to get vaccinated. For this small minority airlines still need to figure out solutions – be it alternative rostering, additional testing or even a different type of job. If – and that is a big ‘if’ – vaccination mandates are in line with national labour laws, or the constitution, in the first place. Airlines will now have to work out with their employees and their unions what concrete solutions to find for the unvaccinated minority. My gut feeling is that mandatory vaccination would not improve roster planning significantly. 
Neither Swiss, nor Wizz Air have communicated the vaccination rate of their crew. The only numbers we can look at are the vaccination rates of United and Cathay Pacific pilots: both topping 90% of pilots vaccinated, prior to a mandate. Will the mandate significantly boost those numbers? With the vaccination morale being already pretty high among Europe’s pilots, I think the answer is clear.  
My experience is that the discussions about COVID-19 and all related aspects are polarizing, also on the flight deck. It is apparently difficult to find compromises, but I sincerely hope unions and airlines will manage to do so. 

 odb by Otjan de Bruijn, ECA President, Captain Boeing 777