Cruising's next challenge: Vaccinating thousands of crew before ships relaunch

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Royal Caribbean International crew waiting to be vaccinated at PortMiami earlier this month, part of a partnership between the port and the line to vaccinate crew ahead of major ship relaunches.
Royal Caribbean International crew waiting to be vaccinated at PortMiami earlier this month, part of a partnership between the port and the line to vaccinate crew ahead of major ship relaunches.

With the CDC's recent commitment to a mid-July cruise restart from U.S. ports, cruise lines are facing what is predicted to be a daunting challenge: vaccinating their tens of thousands of crew members.

It is not a challenge specific to the U.S. Cruise lines are ramping up their return to service plans in Europe and the Caribbean on ships that will launch prior to any from the States, and they must get the crew on those ships vaccinated even sooner.

But in the U.S., the CDC recently decided to allow cruise lines to skip test sailings if 98% of a ship's crew is vaccinated, and it had previously recommended that all cruise ship crew have a Covid-19 vaccine, putting pressure on U.S. brands to do so, and fast.

In response, several U.S. cruise ports recently stepped forward to offer cruise ship crew vaccination; two have already publicly administered vaccines to crew coming off nearby vessels.

Nine hundred crew from Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas and Navigator of the Seas were vaccinated at PortMiami on May 1, and Independence of the Seas crew were vaccinated on Wednesday; 300 crew members on two Carnival ships, the Carnival Breeze and Carnival Vista, were vaccinated during a May 3 rally to support the resumption of cruising at the Port of Galveston in Texas. MSC Cruises said it is scheduled to begin crew vaccinations for crew on its U.S. based ships on May 7 at PortMiami.

The week before that, Port Canaveral said it would sponsor Covid-19 vaccine distribution to port workers and vessel crew members. Capt. John Murray, the port's CEO, said that he has been working closely with cruise lines and the Florida Department of Health "to come up with a plan and timeline for vaccinating cruise ship crews that could begin the process for a safe return to cruising."

This morning Independence of the Seas ops crew vaccinated in Port Miami. Thank you.

Posted by Michael Bayley on Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Helping cruise companies vaccinate their workers was part of the reason that nations like Greece and Israel have been able to lure so many ships to launch service and call on their ports starting this spring.

"It was a clever thought process by the Greek and Israeli tourism industry," said Mark Conroy, managing director of Silversea Cruises in the U.S., which will launch 10-day cruises from Athens beginning June 18 on the Silver Moon, calling on two Israeli ports. "They've done an amazing job. First of all, they have inoculated a large portion of their own population and  [then] the first thing they did was give us access to the vaccine."

Conroy said during an episode of the Folo by Travel Weekly podcast that Silversea is paying for the vaccines in Greece and Israel, and he does not expect them to be free in the U.S., either. The key, he said, will be access.

"That's going to be one of the challenges with the CDC in the U.S.," Conroy said. "Just to get the access to the vaccine is critically important."

Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley would agree. "It is going to be extremely important that our crew are vaccinated," he said in an April 30 Facebook post, shortly after the CDC news about a midsummer restart.

"We are working to help make this possible and have been assured vaccine availability will significantly improve in the coming weeks and months globally," Bayley wrote. "I encourage all crew to get vaccinated at home if possible and to be guided by their national health authority."

A Royal Caribbean officer at the vaccination site in PortMiami. The line said 900 officers and crew from the Navigator and Freedom of the Seas got the jab.
A Royal Caribbean officer at the vaccination site in PortMiami. The line said 900 officers and crew from the Navigator and Freedom of the Seas got the jab.

Port Canaveral said that, via cooperation among a local healthcare center, the fire department and cruise ship medical personnel, up to 1,000 Covid-19 vaccinations per day can be provided to vessel crew members and shoreside and waterside support workers.

Both PortMiami and Port Canaveral are able to tap Florida's vaccine supply for foreign crew members thanks to a Florida Public Health Advisory approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state's surgeon general and issued on April 29 that expands vaccine eligibility to include "individuals who are in the state for purpose of providing goods or services for the benefit of residents and visitors of the state of Florida."

Carnival Cruise Line staff captain Riccardo Galazzo is vaccinated during a rally in Galveston, Texas, to suport the return of cruising. More than 300 Carnival crew were vaccinated at the event.
Carnival Cruise Line staff captain Riccardo Galazzo is vaccinated during a rally in Galveston, Texas, to suport the return of cruising. More than 300 Carnival crew were vaccinated at the event.

In Texas, it's not clear if there is any state directive to allow the vaccinations of foreign workers; however, Dr. Philip Keiser, the Galveston County Local Health Authority, said that "there is plenty of vaccine supply."

"It's important we do our part to vaccinate as many people as possible," Keiser said. "That includes cruise line employees. We have plenty of vaccine supply available.

"These crew members visit our cities and are part of our community. It's important they don't get sick with Covid-19, or spread it. It's also vital in efforts to get businesses back to their operations. It's a federal program, and there are no residency restrictions."

Vaccinations in Europe

MSC Cruises is tasked with having to vaccinate enough crew to staff 10 of its ships, more than half its fleet, slated to launch service in Europe this summer.

The cruise line said last week that it had started a fleetwide vaccination program for crew, with the MSC Bellissima's captain, Giuseppe Maresca, and its crew the first to receive vaccinations on April 30.

MSC said its plan has been developed and will be delivered "with the support of a number of national government authorities, destinations and private sector entities."

Viking, which is launching service from Bermuda, Iceland and the U.K. this spring and summer, reportedly vaccinated the crew of the Viking Venus, its new ship launching service May 22 in the U.K., while the ship was in Malta, according to a report from Crew Center, a website run by ex-crew from cruise ships.

Updated: This report was updated with new information throughout.

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