Editor’s Note: This article is Part 2 in a two-part series on the impact of COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine mandates on airline safety in the U.S. Read Part 1 here.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in January quietly updated its Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs), allowing aviation doctors for the first time to give medical clearance to some pilots diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare neurological disorder connected to certain COVID-19 vaccines.
The FAA made the change — along with October 2022 updates for electrocardiogram (EKG) test limits — without citing scientific evidence and while the agency has been operating without a permanent administrator since March 2022.
The FAA’s medical guidance appears to diverge from international standards.
These updates come amid an alarming uptick in incidences of pilots incapacitated by medical emergencies during flights, increasing numbers of near-collisions in the air and at airports and in-flight emergencies transmitted by pilots during flights in the U.S.
The Defender previously interviewed several pilots and an air traffic controller who sustained serious adverse events connected to the COVID-19 vaccines.
Recently, more vaccine-injured pilots have come forward with their stories, including Sierra Lund, an athlete and pilot who was diagnosed with vaccine-induced myocarditis soon after receiving the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
Steve Kirsch launched an online petition which has reportedly collected over 25,000 signatures of pilots, flight attendants and other aviation industry employees who are concerned about vaccine injuries in their ranks.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., chairman and chief litigation counsel for Children’s Health Defense, today called on U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to investigate the spike in pilot health emergencies, calling it a public safety issue.
GBS mentioned for first time in FAA medical guidelines
According to a Jan. 25 update to the Guide for AMEs, “In Item 46, Neurologic, Demyelinating Disease,” “expanded guidance” has been provided and a “new disposition table” was added for GBS.
The new guidance, beginning on page 173 of the latest edition of the guide, instructs aviation medical examiners to issue a medical certification to pilots diagnosed with GBS in instances where they experienced a single episode, with no complications, which is “fully resolved,” and from which they have recovered “with a minimum of six (6) months’ stability.”
This appears to be the first time GBS is mentioned in the AMEs guide and clearances are provided, at least in certain instances, to pilots diagnosed with the condition. The 2022 edition of the guide contains no specific mention of GBS.
According to the Mayo Clinic, GBS “is a rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves. Weakness and tingling in your hands and feet are usually the first symptoms.”
GBS has been linked to COVID-19 vaccines — and in particular, the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine.
An April 2022 study published in JAMA Network Open found an increased risk of GBS following vaccination with the Ad26.COV2.S Janssen COVID-19 vaccine.
And a February 2023 study published in JAMA Network Open found that vaccination with the Janssen Ad26.COV2.S COVID-19 “was associated with increased risk for GBS.”
On Dec. 23, 2022 — just one month before updating the AMEs guide with new guidance related to GBS — the FAA advised pilots and air traffic controllers that they could receive Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) Janssen vaccine.
On March 13, the FDA updated its “fact sheet” for the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine to indicate a risk of myocarditis and pericarditis. However, the FAA does not appear to have adjusted its guidance accordingly.
According to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), there have been 3,266 reported cases of GBS following administration of a COVID-19 vaccine or booster.
These figures show a disproportionately high number of GBS cases (537, or 16.44%) following administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, even though the J&J vaccine represents just 2.6% of the total number of COVID-19 vaccines and boosters administered in the U.S. as of March 23.
VAERS has been shown to report only 1% of actual vaccine adverse events.
According to FAA data obtained by via a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by US Freedom Flyers (USFF), while diagnosed cases of GBS remain low, the FAA in 2022 denied a pilot a medical certificate due to GBS for the first time since 2013.
It’s unclear whether the updated guidance is related to the heightened risk of GBS posed by the COVID-19 vaccines that the FAA continues to recommend to pilots and aviation professionals.
FAA updates medical recommendations without supporting evidence
These updates come on the heels of revisions the FAA recently made to the Guide for AMEs, in reference to first-degree atrioventricular (AV) block with a PR interval of less than 300 milliseconds (ms).
The FAA on Oct. 26, 2022 updated its AMEs guide, increasing the acceptable “PR interval” for issuing medical clearance to pilots from below 210 ms to below 300 milliseconds ms. While the previous guidelines were applicable to pilots under age 51, the new guidelines have no age limit.
The PR interval — the time it takes for an electrical impulse to be transmitted from one part of the heart to another — is a key indicator of heart health. According to Merck’s MSD Manual, AV block refers to “partial or complete interruption of impulse transmission from the atria to the ventricles.”
The previously accepted threshold of 210 ms was visible in the AMEs guide as recently as May 2022, as evidenced in a Jan. 27 letter by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) to the FAA, and also in the 2017 edition of the guide (page 218) provided to The Defender by USFF.
Federal Air Surgeon Susan Northrup, M.D., M.P.H., has stated that the FAA’s guidelines pertaining to AV block and the acceptable PR interval were changed not in October 2022 but in 2017.
The FAA so far has provided no evidence, at least publicly, to indicate this change was made in 2017 instead of in 2022.
Kirsch said at the time the new range “accommodates people who have cardiac injury,” adding that the FAA’s new cardiovascular standards represented “a tacit admission from the U.S. government that the COVID vaccine has damaged the hearts of our pilots. Not just a few pilots. A lot of pilots and a lot of damage.”
FAA update on AV block and PR interval raises more question
The FAA’s update pertaining to AV block and the acceptable PR interval also appears to have been made in contravention with accepted medical science.
Merck’s MSD Manual, most recently updated in January, classifies first-degree AV block as any case where the PR interval exceeds 200 ms. The manual also notes that “first-degree AV block is rarely symptomatic.” This indicates that there may be a risk that pilots may be entirely unaware of this condition until their next physical examination.
And a 2009 study titled “Long-term outcomes in individuals with prolonged PR interval or first-degree atrioventricular block,” published in JAMA and based on the Framingham Heart Study, found that “Prolongation of the PR interval is associated with increased risks of AF, pacemaker implantation, and all-cause mortality.”