The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) broadened a standard for normal heart function in pilots because medical evidence showed no symptoms or additional health risk up to the raised threshold, the agency told Reuters, adding that the change had nothing to do with COVID-19 vaccine effects.
Posts online (here) and (here) include a screenshot of a Substack article with the headline, “The FAA has very quietly tacitly admitted that the EKGs of pilots are no longer normal. We should be concerned. Very concerned.”
“After the vaccine rolled out, the FAA secretly widened the EKG parameter range for pilots so they wouldn’t be grounded. It looks like the vax gave at least 50M Americans heart damage.”
“This is a tacit admission from the US government that the COVID vaccine has damaged the hearts of our pilots,” it added.
The full article (archive.ph/NUFRv) made a variety of claims that are beyond the scope of this article, which will focus on the principal claim that the guidelines were expanded to allow for vaccine injuries.
Dr. Richard Kovacs, the chief medical officer at the American College of Cardiology, said in an email that the agency’s new range for electrocardiogram (ECG) measurements is still within current medical guidelines.
ECG, FIRST-DEGREE AV BLOCK EXPLAINED
An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), records heart activity through electrodes placed on the body and the first part of this measurement is called the PR interval, as explained (here) and (here) . The PR interval refers to how long it takes for the heart’s contraction signal to move from the top of the heart to the bottom (here).
A PR interval between 120 and 200 milliseconds (ms) is considered normal, according to standard medical practice (here ). A PR interval greater than 200ms is considered to be a first degree atrioventricular block (AV block), which means that the signals are delayed (though not blocked), as explained (here).
A first-degree AV block often has no symptoms, has no significant complications and treatment is not considered necessary for most patients other than routine observation in case the delay worsens, according to medical experts (here).
According to the American Heart Association (here), "A first-degree heart block occurs when the electrical impulse moves through the heart’s AV node slower than normal. This usually results in a slower heart rate. First-degree heart block rarely causes symptoms and may not require treatment."
‘NOTHING TO DO WITH VACCINES’: FAA
The FAA in October 2022 changed its guidelines regarding PR interval, raising the upper threshold to “less than” 300ms, from 200ms, visible on page 10 (items 36 and 58) (here).
The FAA has denied that COVID-19 vaccine injuries played a role in the agency’s policy shift.
“The change had nothing to do with vaccines,” an FAA spokesperson told Reuters.
“...We raised the cutoff for First Degree AV Block from 200ms to 300ms (milliseconds) because our cardiology consultants provided information that anything under 300ms requires no additional testing and is not a risk for sudden or subtle incapacitation,” the spokesperson said, adding that the change is visible in Revision 6 and 7 on Oct. 26, 2022 (here).
“The FAA’s Federal Air Surgeon determined that pilots and air traffic controllers can safely receive the Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or Novavax vaccine,” the spokesperson added. “The FAA has no evidence of aircraft accidents or incapacitations caused by pilots suffering medical complications associated with COVID-19 vaccines.”
Cardiology expert Kovacs said the FAA’s updated criteria on ECG parameters are “reasonable and consistent with ACC guideline recommendations.”
The current ACC Guidelines note (in section 6.2) that symptoms of fatigue or exertional intolerance may occur in First Degree AV Block at thresholds above 300ms (here)
In contrast, at intervals below 300ms, no additional evaluation or therapies are recommended for patients, according to Kovacs.
Healthy athletes with a PR interval less than 400ms is considered normal, said Kovacs, adding that the 300ms cutoff “may be considered conservative in many healthy people.”
The author of the article told Reuters that he did not have evidence supporting his claim that the FAA changed its guidelines specifically due to vaccine injuries.
False. There is no evidence that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) widened its heart-related health requirements for pilots due to their experiencing heart issues associated with the COVID-19 vaccines.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work (here) .
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.