Fauci Warns Vaccine-Hesitant Pilots: Getting COVID Should Be Greater Concern

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday that airline pilots should be far more worried about the potential health consequences of contracting COVID-19 than any risk of possible side effects from vaccines.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, made the comments during Wednesday's press briefing by the White House COVID-19 Response Team.

"We have examples of people—they may not necessarily be pilots, maybe there are some—who actually have gotten COVID and have had an unexplained but real impacting on their ability to function normally," Fauci said.

fauci vaccine boosters
When asked about airline pilots who are worried about side effects from COVID-19 vaccines, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the possible lingering health effects of the actual virus are far more dangerous. In this photo, Fauci testifies during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on July 31, 2020 in Washington, DC. Erin Scott-Pool/Getty Images

His remarks came during a response to a question from an NPR reporter who had asked about reports of commercial airline pilots being worried about potential "career-ending side effects" from getting vaccinated. The reporter specifically noted pilots from American Airlines and Southwest Airlines who have voiced these concerns.

"Right now, on the basis of literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of vaccinations that we've had, the safety of these vaccines has been clearly established," Fauci said of the low potential of ill health coming from the shots.

He continued that it's not uncommon to get a sore arm or low-grade fever following vaccination, though those symptoms "almost invariably diminish and dissipate over a period of a couple of days," and long-term effects are "really, essentially non-existent."

Last weekend, Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights due to what it said was bad weather and operational issues. However, online rumors spread that the problems were actually the result of pilots protesting and walking out due to Southwest's vaccine mandate.

The aviators' union, Southwest Airlines Pilot Association, recently requested a Texas federal judge to block the company's COVID-19 vaccine mandate until a ruling came in on a lawsuit. But the union's head denied flight disruptions were due to any pilot protest.

"I can say with certainty that there are no work slowdowns or sickouts either related to the recent mandatory vaccine mandate or otherwise," Casey Murray, president of Southwest Airlines Pilot Association, said on October 10 in a statement.

Southwest Airlines and American Airlines are both headquartered in Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott issued an order on Monday that bans all vaccine mandates, including for private businesses. Nonetheless, both airlines said they would keep their COVID-19 vaccine requirements in place for their employees.

Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, also responded to the question about pilots during the briefing. Reiterating what Fauci had stated, Zients said: "If pilots get COVID-19, the consequences to their health can be significant."