The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) establishes vaccination framework for seafarers
Working with non-governmental organisations, the ICS has joined the bandwagon with the United States, Netherlands and other countries to set up vaccination hubs for seafarers as part of the COVID-19 vaccine framework. 16 states in America have commenced their vaccination programmes for non-native crew calling on their ports. Other European countries would be implementing the same. The Netherlands will launch a vaccination initiative for seafarers regardless of nationality; as long as they are onboard Dutch-flagged vessels.
ICS’ efforts to inoculate seafarers
Seafarers in their position as backbone of world supply chains warrant vaccination for safety, and that of passengers as well as the general public. Industry bodies’ collaboration with authorities is apparently insufficient to inoculate against the disease. Hence, the ICS developed a roadmap designated to help achieve global immunisation for seafarers.
The framework contains information on vaccine eligibility, implementation, distribution, administration and legal issues. Realising the importance of seafarers’ vaccination, Guy Platten, Secretary-General of the ICS, commented: “The pace of COVID-19 vaccine production is a modern marvel, but the world is reeling over distribution delays. Soon, seafarers will be delivering the vaccine by sea freight. They are delivering critical PPE, safety boxes, syringes, and other medical materials for the vaccine rollout. Seafarers must be prioritised for the vaccine to not further exacerbate delivery delays.”
This is a good source of reference for shipping companies (agents and representatives, including crew agencies), maritime administrations and national health authorities, in liaison with other bodies and seafarers, during the planning and roll-out stages of the programme. It allows governments, regions and companies responsible for port authorities to expedite putting procedures in place to create vaccine hubs. Port authorities will work in collaboration with other stakeholders, including shipowners, charities and medical staff to ensure effective vaccine implementation.
The vaccination programme is for seafarers who need to leave their vessels and return home; coming from countries which currently do not have vaccination available (comprising about 60 per cent of the seafaring population); and from nations which have not prioritised seafarers in their vaccination drives.
Though the prevailing vaccination course within World Health Organisation’s guidelines is two doses, single doses are preferred due to the nature of seafarers’ jobs – short voyages. Unfortunately, they are not always available. Therefore, the framework asserted contingency plans must be in place to ensure second doses are ready when the need arises.
Implementing the cause should be a collective effort between national authorities, shipowners, seafarers and welfare entities. Hence, a multi-disciplinary team is needed to ensure proper programme rollout. Vaccination sites would be selected based on ease of access, appropriate infrastructure to supply and store vaccines in big quantities. An example could be an existing medical facility, a port or an airport.
Lastly, the seafarer’s consent is required to administer vaccines. Thus, employers need to consider the reasons should a seafarer refuses to be vaccinated. Eventually, employers reserve the rights to deny unvaccinated employees work, subject to thorough deliberation of each individual’s provided response and facts.