Challenges, Views, and Concerns - Will Covid vaccinations become mandatory for the cruise lines?

Jan 29, 2021

With the release of the vaccine for COVID for essential workers such as medical professionals and positive thus far response from people who have taken both doses of the vaccine, the cruise industry is starting to review options related to how they can implement policies related to vaccination in order to be able to return the crew to work and the guests to enjoy cruises. However, the views of each cruise line appear to be different, at least for now. While some cruise companies are ambiguous about their future requirements by making statements that they will have to see what happens and providing diplomatic answers to questions as if not to stir more issues and potentially lose guests or even prospective crew members, other companies are giving clear ideas of what will be expected of guests and crew. The cruise industry is eager to return to operation to be able to continue to produce revenue. The guests appear to consistently seek information related to when cruises will commence as with COVID 19 hitting the world people have paused vacationing and are ready to return to somewhat normal and enjoy some respite. 

What is the current standpoint of the major cruise lines about Covid-19 vaccination?

Saga Cruises which caters for passengers over the age of 50 is the first cruise line to introduce requirement for passengers to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19 before cruising. Saga said crew members, who largely are younger, would not need to be vaccinated before starting to work, stating that other safety protocols would be in place to protect the shipboard employees until they're able to receive inoculation.

Norwegian Cruise Line said that all options when it comes to vaccinations are being explored for guests and crew. "It is our intention that all crew members be vaccinated before boarding our vessels to begin their duties, subject to availability of the vaccine," said NCL spokesperson.

Royal Caribbean Group is still in the process of finalizing the details for return to service. As soon as the company has more information on the new requirements, they will let the guests and crew know.

Carnival Corporation spokesperson said no firm decisions was made at this point regarding Covid-19 vaccination of crew and passengers. The world's largest travel leisure company said the vaccines represent an important breakthrough for people throughout the world, including the travel, hospitality and cruising industries. "We are reviewing the various vaccines, but we have not made any decisions on next steps at this point." Carnival spokesperson said.

MSC Cruises, which was one of the first cruise lines to restart operations in Italy is not commenting at this time if the company is considering requirements for vaccination.

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines said it had no news to share on this subject yet.

The crew are eager to return to work in order to be able to support themselves and their families, but even more so the cruise ships are their second home and they want to return home to their regular responsibilities, travel, their friends, and so on. It is obvious that restarting the cruise industry to some level would benefit all involved and this is not a question at all. Currently the only question that remains is to vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

Priority for the crew as essential workers

The cruise industry strives to classify the crew members as a part of essential workers. The International Maritime Organization stated that seafarers, as essential workers, should get priority for vaccination. The world's largest cruise industry trade association CLIA, said it has been working with IMO, ILO, the International Chamber of Shipping and other organizations to urge IMO member states to recognize seafarers as key workers, and a one of the benefits of this could be vaccination priority.

This is understandable as the longer the ships are docked the longer it costs the industry a pretty penny, well lots and lots of pennies. But as COVID taught us, the guests, the crew members and consequently the cruise industry sometimes it is more costly to jump the gun instead of work through the process and consider medical advice related to medical matters. Sick crew and guests in abundant percentage sometimes can be more costly in more than monetary value. The cruise industry is aware of this and is being cautious of how to proceed before waving those flags and honking the ship horn again. Furthermore, the question of whether guests can be mandated vaccination prior to sailing has brought in mixed reviews – as expected – from the guests themselves.

While some guests are celebrating the decision of Saga to mandate vaccination of guests, others are calling it discrimination. And while both opposing sides have valid perspectives as one seeks to sail knowing that they’re coming home healthy as they left and the other side with concerns related to inability to obtain a vaccine due to medical reasons, risk factors, believes, etc., reality is that we are wanting for life to return back to normal in duration of pandemic. If guests are not vaccinated, and someone gets infected by COVID-19, who bears the cost of the medical expenses and even worse funeral expenses? Most likely the cruise company especially when it comes to crew and at this time crew are not even able to obtain vaccination. The cruise companies will have the tough decision to make whether to mandate guests to be vaccinated or not with obvious concerns whether they may be losing few guests in the process whether they are pro or against vaccination for whatever reason.

Crew Members Challenges

While the cruise companies are presently in the hot seat when it comes to guest vaccination, it is obvious that the push for crew to be classified as essential workers brings upon another hot seat for them…the crew members. The same concerns as the guests are concerns of the crew members as any other person who is contemplating the choice to vaccinate or not. However, crew members also have an additional challenge. Most of them do come from small third world countries where vaccination has not even been initiated as the demand for world supply of the vaccine is higher than the ability to make the vaccine under COVID 19 restrictions. Furthermore, while as a medical provider my employer covered the vaccine the question also is who will bear the cost of vaccinating the crew and how would that look like? Does this mean that if the cruise company mandates the vaccine to be obtained prior to embarking a ship, those who do not have access or funds for the vaccine will end up continuously to be jobless and in a sense discriminated against? At this time there are more questions than answers related to crew members and vaccination. However, reality is that with all these questions come also loss not only for the crew, but the cruise industry as well. For the crew who will chose not to vaccinate whether it is due to medical conditions, risk factors or beliefs, as well as inability to gain access or funds for the same the realistic perspective is that the cruise industry may end up losing valuable resource in shape of trained and knowledgeable human power which makes the cruises function and that much more fun.

Fear, Rumors and Propaganda

With the release of the COVID vaccine much hope birthed in a lot of people who are eager to return to their lives, medical professionals who have lived in some level of fear and anxiety while continuing to care for their patients, and people who were negatively impacted financially due to the pandemic and shut down. Yet, with anything that is novel comes fear, rumors and propaganda that often stealth that hope for many. Once a crew member myself (i.e., 13 years ago), today a medical provider who already is two weeks into my second shot of the vaccine and no negative side effects whatsoever I heard those hope stealth discussions and posts before making the decision that my patients are important and I want to continue to protect them as much as I can. Nevertheless, the fear of all that I read and heard was there and brought up questions. As a medical provider I learned to check research, read reliable sources, and speak with specialists who can answer my questions to make an educated and informed decision. The advice to crew members is before making a decision to be vaccinated or not, to consider the benefits and negatives to each, research from reliable sources, and discuss with a reliable medical provider who would give you a sound information based on your own individual medical history. 

And while the world is waiting for the new normal, the cruise industry surely is in more than one hot seat to which decisions have to be made wisely with consideration to all aspects. We have waited a whole year and we are growing impatient for life to return to normal, but expectation that this will happen overnight, thus answers will be answered promptly is unrealistic. However, what is realistic is open and honest communication about concerns, needs, and wants to be able to take on one question at a time.