FAA Grants Flight Clearance to UNOS, Other Medical Organizations
Despite closures of U.S. airports after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., the nation's organ transplant system and other organizations transporting blood and emergency medical supplies have received a "green light" for air travel in the form of a special waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Contra Costa Times reports (Krishnan, Contra Costa Times, 9/13). The United Network for Organ Sharing has delivered 24 organs since receiving air clearance on Sept. 11, with deliveries coordinated by regional organ procurement organizations. Anne Paschke, a spokesperson for UNOS, said the four-to-six hour lifespan of hearts and lungs intended for transplant makes "[q]uick delivery ... especially crucial." For organs such as kidneys and pancreases, viable recipients are determined based more on "tissue-matching than need," and therefore must usually travel longer distances, the AP/Nando Times reports (AP/Nando Times, 9/12). Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a Sept. 11 liver transplant operation for a girl at Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital was cancelled because the liver could not be flown from New Mexico after the nation's air transport system was shut down (Raine, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/12). On Sept. 12, officials at the FAA cleared planes to fly for "emergency medical purposes" after blood centers "were left scrambling" to ship vials of donor blood to testing sites. With only 72 hours available to "get the most accurate results" in testing the blood for HIV, hepatitis B and other infectious diseases, "urgency is key," the Contra Costa Times reports. Although blood centers used alternate transportation routes, such as military planes and ground transportation, in the past few days, the FAA gave clearance late Tuesday night for two planes in San Diego to drop off test vials in Portland (Contra Costa Times, 9/13).
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Meanwhile, the country's pharmaceutical industry has not received FAA clearance, prompting firms respond to "contin[uing] demand" for drugs and supplies by operating solely on ground transportation, the Bloomberg News/Detroit Free Press reports. Companies are "trucking drugs that would ordinarily be flown" to distributors and hospitals to ensure products arrive where they are needed. Mark Grayson, spokesperson for PhRMA, said, "There is an average 90-day supply of each drug in the U.S. and plans made in preparation for possible disruptions with the Year 2000 changeover are helping companies allocate those products." Representatives from Pfizer, the world's largest drugmaker, said "the grounding of air traffic isn't expected to lead to shortages" (Richter, Bloomberg News/Detroit Free Press, 9/13).