The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has coordinated a number of shipping bodies in launching a practical guide on COVID-19 vaccinations for use throughout the industry. The guide is part of an effort to ensure that seafarers are kept safe and fully informed when it comes to vaccines, while also maintaining the integrity of global supply chains.
The guide, entitled 'Vaccination for Seafarers and Shipping Companies: A Practical Guide', was unveiled at today’s ICS Leadership Insights Live event on the ‘The Future Seafarer’. Co-produced with the International Maritime Health Association, INTERTANKO, and the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), it is being circulated to shipowners for use amongst crews. It is hoped the guide will help tackle the spread of vaccine misinformation by providing a trusted source of information for crew members.
An accompanying video features seafarers from across the world discussing how vaccines will improve their ability to carry out their day-to-day roles. They include Captain Rajeshkumar Singh from Mumbai, who said: 'Vaccines will provide us with the best possible protection against COVID-19 and will be vital to ensure that we can travel freely across the globe.'
Guy Platten, ICS Secretary General said: 'The guide includes straightforward information on the different types of vaccine available globally, and their safety benefits for all parties involved in global maritime. This is to counter "anti-vaxx" misinformation circulating online that might be dissuading crew from taking up the vaccine.
'Often, social media is the main way through which seafarers keep in touch with family and loved ones while at sea, but it can also lead to the spread of inaccuracies around vaccines and make crew less willing to be vaccinated. Some crew may also be reticent due to religious concerns over vaccines containing alcohol or meat products.'
It’s unclear how many crew are hesitant to have vaccinations. But polling evidence has found reluctance to be widespread in the general population, running as high as 30% in the US and even 40% in some European Union countries such as France.
The guide provides straightforward advice on the kinds of vaccines available so crew can make educated and informed decisions.
The launch comes as various nations are considering launching restrictive vaccine passport schemes, which ICS has warned could put shipowners in an impossible position. It could also exacerbate the ongoing crew change crisis, with concern that the figure of 200,000 seafarers impacted by could rise if more countries begin requesting seafarers are vaccinated before ships can enter their ports.
ICS is among several industry bodies calling for seafarers to be treated as key workers and prioritised for vaccines (more than half the workforce, some 900,000, are from developing countries where government-led roll out may not reach them until 2024). This would ensure that seafarers can continue to transport vital goods, food and medical supplies, but key to success will be making sure that crews are as well informed on different vaccines as possible.
Guy Platten added: 'The vaccines on the WHO list of vaccines for Emergency Use could soon help us all find it easier to get on with international travel and carry out crew changes. Seafarers must travel across borders as part of their day-to-day role and to do that they may soon need to provide evidence they have been vaccinated. We must ensure that governments prioritise seafarers as keyworkers and do not put them at the back of the vaccine queue. This is vital, especially as they will be responsible for much of the world’s vaccine roll out.
'It’s essential that seafarers are treated with the respect they have surely earnt by keeping global trade moving in a pandemic; and this includes being given all the latest information on COVID-19 vaccines so they can make informed choices.'