16 U.S. states take lead in international seafarer vaccinations

Written by Nick Blenkey
Seafarers show off bandages on arms

Seafarers 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 U.S. have begun vaccination programs for foreign-national crews of ships delivering goods to their ports.

European countries are set to follow suit in the coming weeks, following successful vaccination programs for their own populations. These include the Netherlands. which is to start vaccinations for all seafarers, regardless of nationality, on ships flying under the Dutch flag from mid-June.

To help governments and companies responsible for creating seafarer vaccination hubs, the ICS has published a Vaccination Roadmap, a 21-page document has information on vaccine eligibility, implementation, distribution, administration and legal issues.

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

Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping, 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. Already they deliver critical PPE, safety boxes, syringes, and other medical materials for the vaccine rollout. Seafarers must be prioritized for the vaccine to not further exacerbate delivery delays.”

While industry bodies are working with authorities at a national, regional and international level to prioritize rapid access to vaccinations for seafarers, a roadmap dedicated to seafarer vaccination will help to achieve global immunization.

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

The roadmap allows governments, regions and companies responsible for port authorities to expedite putting procedures in place to create vaccine hubs, once they are ready to begin vaccine rollout to seafarers. Port authorities will work in collaboration 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 in the position to do the same, says ICS. The roadmap will allow countries to do so quickly, by allowing governments, companies and other stakeholders to learn from the best practices of others.


The vaccination program will be targeted at seafarers who:

  • need to leave their vessels and return home;
  • come from countries which currently do not have vaccination available (roughly 60% of the seafaring population); and
  • come from countries which currently have not prioritized seafarers in their vaccination campaigns.


With over 50 vaccines in clinical trials, it is recommended that the vaccination administered should be on the WHO list of vaccines. 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 certain countries. Should a second dose be needed, plans should be developed for the second injection to be received in a timely manner.


National and local authorities, ships and seafarers and welfare providers should contribute to forming a multi-disciplinary team. This will be required to establish-and implement a seafarer vaccination roadmap, from establishing a center to rolling out the program.


Sites for vaccination hubs will be chosen based on their efficient crew access, plentiful vaccine supply and appropriate infrastructure support to supply and store vaccines. A site could be a port or an airport, or in existing medical facilities that are already used as a vaccination center.


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

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

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