International Maritime Organisation (WHO) Secretary-General Kitack Lim has welcomed the decision of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to name seafarers and aircrew as one of the groups of transportation workers that should be prioritised for COVID-19 vaccination in instances of limited supplies.
The updated guidance for Stage II of its vaccine roadmap from the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) states: “Seafarers and aircrews who work on vessels that carry goods and no passengers, with special attention to seafarers who are stranded at sea and prevented from crossing international borders for crew change due to travel restrictions.”
IMO Secretary-General Lim said, “I am glad to see that the WHO recognises the importance of vaccinating seafarers on cargo ships. These individuals are responsible for transporting over 80% of all goods around the world, including food, medicine and vaccine supplies – and have continued to do so despite extremely challenging circumstances. Seafarers will play a key role in the global recovery, and barriers to international travel and crew change must be removed.”
The SAGE guidance aims to provide guidance for overall programme priorities as well as vaccine-specific recommendations and consists of three steps: Step 1: A values framework; Step 2: Roadmap for prioritizing uses of COVID-19 vaccines; Step 3: Vaccine-specific recommendations. The vaccine prioritization roadmap considers priority populations for vaccination based on epidemiologic setting and vaccine supply scenarios and can be used by countries to shape their national response to the pandemic.
The IMO has made a number of calls for priority vaccination for seafarers this year, including issuing a joint statement with other UN organizations in March 2021, calling for seafarers and aircrew to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination. In May, IMO adopted a resolution which encouraged priority vaccination for seafarers in national COVID-19 vaccination programmes and Secretary-General Lim called on all IMO Member States to designate seafarers as ‘key workers’ and support a fair global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.