16 U.S. states take the lead in international seafarer vaccination


Written by

Nick blenkey

Sailors after receiving their COVID-19 vaccine in Norfolk, Va., Earlier this month. [Photo:Barbara (Bobbi) Shipley]

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) reports that to date, 16 states in the United States have initiated vaccination programs for foreign crews of ships delivering goods to their ports.

European countries are expected to follow suit in the coming weeks, following successful vaccination programs for their own populations. These include the Netherlands. which consists of starting vaccinations for all seafarers, whatever their nationality, on board ships flying the Dutch flag from mid-June.

To assist governments and companies responsible for establishing seafarer vaccination centers, ICS has published an Immunization Roadmap, a 21-page document containing information on eligibility, implementation , vaccine distribution, administration and legal issues.

Seafarers are a unique population with their own unique requirements for international travel. To protect the health of seafarers, passengers and the general public, and to minimize disruption to trade and global supply chains, vaccination of seafarers is essential.

Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping, said:

“The pace of COVID-19 vaccine production is a modern marvel, but the world is reeling from delays in distribution. Soon, the sailors will deliver the vaccine by sea freight. They are already providing PPE, safety boxes, syringes and other medical supplies essential for vaccine deployment. Seafarers must be given priority so that the vaccine does not further exacerbate delivery delays. “

As industry bodies work with authorities at national, regional and international levels to prioritize rapid access to vaccinations for seafarers, a dedicated seafarer vaccination roadmap will help achieve global vaccination.

The document can be used by shipping companies (and their agents and representatives, including crew agencies), maritime administrations and national health authorities, in conjunction with other authorities (such as local customs, the immigration, border control, seaports and civil aviation) and seafarers, during the planning and deployment stages of the vaccination program.

The roadmap enables governments, regions and companies responsible for port authorities to speed up the establishment of procedures to establish vaccination centers, once they are ready to begin deploying vaccines to seafarers. Port authorities will work with other stakeholders including shipowners, charities and medical staff to ensure effective vaccine implementation.

These learnings can be translated and replicated globally when other countries are able to do the same, says ICS. The roadmap will enable countries to do this quickly, enabling governments, businesses and other stakeholders to learn from the best practices of others.


The vaccination program will target seafarers who:

  • must leave their ships and return home;
  • come from countries which do not currently have vaccination (around 60% of the seafaring population); and
  • come from countries which have not currently given priority to seafarers in their vaccination campaigns.


With more than 50 vaccines in clinical trials, it is recommended that the administered vaccine be on the WHO vaccine list. Due to the transient profile of international seafarers, single dose vaccines are strongly preferred under this roadmap. However, it is recognized that these may not always be available in some countries. If a second dose is needed, plans should be made for the second injection to be received in a timely manner.


National and local authorities, ships, seafarers and social service providers should help form a multidisciplinary team. This will be necessary to establish and implement a roadmap for the vaccination of seafarers, from the establishment of a center to the deployment of the program.


Vaccination center sites will be selected on the basis of efficient access by their crew, abundant vaccine supply, and appropriate infrastructure to deliver and store vaccines. A site could be a port or an airport, or in existing medical facilities that are already in use as a vaccination center.


Vaccination requires the informed and voluntary consent of an individual. If an employed seafarer refuses vaccination, employers should carefully consider the reasons given. Employers may consider not allowing unvaccinated employees to work. Each case will have to be examined on its own facts and an individual response will be provided accordingly.

Due to the complexity of legal issues related to the vaccination of seafarers, it is suggested that interested stakeholders consider ICS guidance on the subject.

  • Coronavirus (COVID-19): Legal, Liability and Insurance Issues Arising from Vaccination of Seafarersrs

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