Southern California Port Employees Begin to Get Vaccinated

COVID vaccines for dockworkers in Southern California
Port complex in San Pedro Bay (file photo)

Published Feb 15, 2021 7:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

After repeated calls to add the dockworkers at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to the priority groups for the COVID-19 vaccine, California authorities agreed and released the first batch of vaccines for the frontline workers who are ensuring that cargo continues to flow through the ports. Despite the shortage of the vaccine that has forced some of California’s mass vaccination locations to suspend operations, Long Beach was able to allocate vaccines to people who work at the ports starting on February 12.

The Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services confirmed that it organized the clinic supplying 800 doses of the Moderna vaccine for the port workers.  The port workers were added to the priority groups which have included frontline workers in the medical profession, senior citizens, and recently expanded with other segments including teachers.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents people working in the docks told Reuters that the appointments were fully booked in just 20 minutes. They cited the vital role the members have been providing since March to ensure the flow of goods through the dual ports and the interaction required to complete their tasks at the port.

In mid-January, officials of the ILWU told the Los Angeles Times that 694 members had tested positive for the virus while 12 members were reported to have died from the virus. Union officials also reported alarmingly high percentages of positive tests among employees at both ports and said that hundreds of people had taken leave fearing that they would be exposed to the virus while on the job.

With the growing backlog of ships waiting in the San Pedro Bay for terminal space being blamed in part of the virus fears were growing that the ports would not have the number of workers n hand to keep up with the volumes. Elected officials, union, and port executives had joined together calling on the state to include dockworkers in the list of frontline employees to ensure they could receive the vaccinations as the earliest possible date. The Los Angeles City Council had also approved a resolution calling on the mayor to vaccine the dockworkers. 

Los Angeles health officials were sympathetic to the concerns acknowledging reports of community spread of the virus within the ports and its potential impact operations. They also acknowledge the essential nature of the work performed by the port employees to maintain commerce across the region, but their hands were largely tied by the state that prioritized groups for vaccinations. Further, after having experienced a surge in the virus in recent weeks, Los Angeles, like most parts of the U.S., was facing a shortage of the vaccine calling on the federal government to increase distribution to the hard-hit areas.