Unions Ask UK to Formalize Availability of COVID Vaccine for Seafarers

UK COVID-19 vaccination for seafarers
Seafarer receiving vaccination in Canada (SIU Canada photo)

Published Jul 26, 2021 6:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

Unions Ask UK to Formalize Availability of COVID Vaccine for Seafarers

International organizations are continuing to call on countries with a supply of COVID-19 vaccines to expand their efforts to include seafarers marking port calls regardless of the seafarers’ nationality. Since the beginning of the global vaccination roll out, one of the biggest challenges is to reach crew members who are spending months at sea and by the nature of their work at both rarely in their home countries nor back at ports on regular intervals for the two-dose regiments.

The International Maritime Employers Council and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) noted in an update on the availability of vaccinations that they have been working since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure that seafarers are kept safe from the coronavirus and that crew change continues with minimum disruption. Some countries they highlighted have already started mass vaccination campaigns and when stocks allow it they are also vaccinating foreign seafarers in their ports. The United States led the way but was soon joined by countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and Cyprus, among others.

Nautilus International's general secretary Mark Dickinson and CEO of the UK Chamber of Shipping Bob Sanguinetti are now calling on the UK to formalize a national program making the vaccinations available to all seafarers. The unions said that seafarers are receiving vaccinations in the UK, although there has not been a formal announcement by health authorities.

In a joint letter to Dominic Raab, the UK Secretary of State, the unions are asking that the UK actively offer vaccinations to seafarers visiting British ports. The letter calls for a Department of Health and Social Care statement confirming the government's policy to be published as soon as possible to ensure a consistent approach to seafarer vaccination in all ports. The unions are also sending a follow-up letter making the same requests to Sajid Javid, the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

The unions said that they have been advised verbally by the Department of Transport and English public health officials that seafarers of any nationality serving on ships visiting the UK are entitled to vaccination in the UK without needing to register with a doctor. Currently, they said shipping companies and/or seafarer welfare organizations are making arrangements with the local health authorities but a national statement and policy they believe would help to expand the availability and rate of vaccinations for seafarers.

At the same time, the organizations are also asking the national public health authorities to take other steps to ease the availability of vaccinations and support the national effort to expand the percentage of individuals vaccinated. They asked the government to reduce the interval for vaccines for seafarers, when possible, which could help with the challenge for the two-dose programs. Also, to support the expansion and availability of the vaccines, the unions asked for the statement to confirm that vaccines can be administered onboard cruise ships by qualified medical staff recommended.

As of the weekend, the UK Government reports that approximately 56 percent of those eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines are fully vaccinated, or over 37 million people. Nearly 70 percent of the UK population has received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.