Belgium has officially started its vaccination campaign for seafarers this morning in the presence of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice and the North Sea, Vincent Van Quickenborne.
The vaccination of Belgian seafarers against COVID-19 has started. The vaccinations are currently taking place in the Port of Antwerp and will also be carried out in the Port of Zeebrugge in a few days. Around 2,200 seafarers will have been inoculated in the course of the month. Maritime workers are often far from home for weeks and months and thus face difficulties enrolling in the regular inoculation programmes.
“Seafarers are important to our economy. 90% of what we consume arrive by sea. At the same time, seafarers live at sea in closed groups for a long time, which can be dangerous should there be a corona outbreak onboard,” said Minister Van Quickenborne. “With a vaccine, we are not only offering Belgian seafarers the security to work in those unique circumstances but also the ability to travel safely and smoothly to foreign ports. Belgium is the first country in Europe to vaccinate seafarers. In this way, we can guarantee the continuous operation of shipping.”
“We are pleased that the Belgian government has set in motion the much-needed inoculation of seafarers in the coming weeks,” added Wilfried Lemmens, Managing Director of the Royal Belgian Shipowners’ Association, who was also present at the event. “It is a sign of appreciation to our seafarers and their families for the commitment, flexibility and perseverance they have shown over the past 15 months. It is also a guarantee that they can continue to safely do their challenging job in the coming months and, as such, ensure the continuation of global trade.”
Dr Rob Verbist, the General Practitioner of Mediport, who is responsible for carrying out the vaccinations in Antwerp together with his team, explained:
“Seafarers aged 41 years and more are receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, of which only one dose is needed. This is very practical for their working situation. Younger persons are receiving the Pfizer vaccine, according to the recently introduced age limit. This group will have to return within 5 weeks for a second shot.”
Seafarers are our invisible heroes at sea. Many of them were, and some still are, stuck at sea for months due to the current global pandemic, not able to return home or be replaced by another team. Vaccination is the only solution to this crew change crisis. For this reason, back in December, a resolution was adopted by the UN General Assembly calling for all countries to designate seafarers as key workers and for the priority vaccination of seafarers. Earlier in May, the International Chamber of Shipping produced a Vaccination Roadmap framework to help establish vaccination hubs dedicated to seafarers across the world.
With Belgium taking the lead in Europe to inoculate seafarers, the shipping industry is hoping for more countries to follow suit in order to provide the critical relief to the global crew change crisis.