Breaking down Etihad’s impressive crew vaccine claim

Feb 11, 2021

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“Etihad Airways is the first airline in the world with 100% of crew on board vaccinated,” a subject line read in my inbox Wednesday morning.

It’s a very impressive claim, and sure to boost confidence among passengers looking to minimize their risk — if you have to fly right now, why not choose an airline that promises you’ll fly with a fully vaccinated crew?

I had questions, so I dove into the details. The carrier didn’t specifically mention that pilots and flight attendants had received both required doses, so I wanted to start there.

The airline’s statement included a timeline that technically made the claim possible — saying “Since December 2020, we have been offering in-house vaccination appointments to our employees…” — but getting two doses into every single crew member by now felt as though that would’ve been tough to accomplish.

So, I followed up with the airline for clarification. As it turns out, 100% of flight attendants and pilots have received the Sinopharm vaccine, which is said to be 79% effective. But some crew members have only gotten one shot so far — not the two required to achieve that rate.

While the airline employs a relatively small number of crew members, with some 5,000 on the books, getting both shots to everyone won’t happen overnight. Additionally, it takes some time to build up immunity after the second shot — which can be administered three weeks after the first.

So, back to Etihad’s claim: While the carrier has apparently given all of its crew members at least a first shot, it seems that the crew won’t be fully vaccinated for at least a few more weeks.

Related: Half of Americans say travel affects their decision to get vaccinated

Other airlines also remain in the race to inoculate all crew — Singapore Airlines will provide employees with Pfizer’s vaccine, while Emirates is working to roll out the Pfizer and Sinopharm vaccines among its staff.

U.S. airlines are also hoping to have employees inoculated quickly — United’s CEO is even considering making the vaccination mandatory, though with states handling the rollout, it isn’t even available to all airline employees yet.

It’s also worth nothing that the Sinopharm vaccine is less effective than the 94% and above rate expected with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines offered in the U.S., and it’s not yet clear whether or not vaccinated people can transmit the disease to someone else. In other words, crew vaccination claims shouldn’t have much bearing on which airline you choose to fly — at least not yet.

Featured photo courtesy of Etihad.

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