Vaccination numbers for seafarers are improving, but challenges remain

Image courtesy of IMO

Published 09/21/2021 11:33 PM by

The maritime executive

The percentage of seafarers who have received a full course of a COVID-19 vaccine is improving, according to the latest figures released by the Neptune Declaration’s Crew Change Tracker. In September, about 22 percent of the world’s 1.4 million seafarers were vaccinated, up from 15 percent in August. The number varies regionally, but represents a significant improvement from the beginning of this year.

Government-sponsored programs are in full swing and the cause has won the backing of the World Health Organization, but seafarers’ welfare organizations can take a large part of the credit. According to the North American Maritime Ministry Association (NAMMA), more than 50,000 foreign seafarers have been vaccinated by their members and their union, industrial and health partners in American seaports. That number adds to the thousands of others who have received the shot from a commercial operator or a cruise line employer in the United States.

However, challenges remain. Some nations only offer two-dose vaccines, which means that seafarers who receive the first dose will have to look for a second of the same type in a different port of call – not just for a hitchhiker. To make matters more difficult for seafarers and ship operators, some nations do not recognize the vaccines of other nations: For example, the Indian formulas Covaxin and Russia’s Sputnik V are not considered valid in the United States.

In addition, vaccination certificates can be difficult to obtain and use. In the UK, reports the Liverpool Seafarers Center, seafarers do not have access to an official vaccination certificate because they are not registered with the UK National Health Service (NHS).

“At the moment they only have the card that is given to them at the time of vaccination, which confirms the administration of the vaccine, the manufacturer, the batch number and the date of administration. These are handwritten – I could have picked one up. “I went anywhere with these cards and wrote them down myself,” says John Wilson from LSC. “We need the IMO, ILO and WHO to create a uniform framework worldwide.”

According to Wilson, vaccine distribution would be easier if seafarers simply had to be vaccinated across the board. Currently, the shipping lines and crewing agencies that manpower their ships recommend vaccinating crew members, but not all officially mandate it.

“The underlying message right now is that if you aren’t vaccinated you won’t get hired, but they didn’t make it mandatory. However, I believe it will become mandatory from a retention perspective.” said Wilson. “When you are vaccinated, the chances of serious illness or death are limited.”

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About Christine Geisler

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