Ports, Transport Stakeholders Call for Priority Workforce Vaccination

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Published Dec 10, 2020 5:36 PM by The Maritime Executive

Eight associations for the American transport sector have called on the Senate Commerce Committee to prioritize access to vaccination for transport workers, including the 650,000 people who work in American seaports. Citing these workers' vital contribution to the vaccine and PPE supply chain and recent CDC guidance for essential workers, the trade groups called on the committee to ensure that critical infrastructure workers have access to vaccination. 

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised that COVID-19 will remain an unremitting public health concern for months to come. As a result, the importance of a risk-based vaccine distribution plan cannot be overstated. Ensuring vaccine availability for freight, rail, port and waterway, and energy workers is a key protective intervention to help keep our critical supply chains doperating," the group wrote. 

The associations pointed to recent guidance from the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which proposed new recommendations on the allocation of COVID-19 vaccines in a meeting earlier this month. ACIP included transport workers in its list of essential workers for priority vaccination in a second-stage “Phase 1b” vaccine sequence - several weeks after healthcare personnel and residents in long-term care facilities, which were identified for first-stage rollout in “Phase 1a.” The transport groups called on the Senate Commerce Committee to voice its support for the ACIP's proposed rollout schedule. 

In a statement, American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) president and CEO Christopher J. Connor noted the role that U.S. ports and their 650,000-strong workforce have played in supplying the COVID-19 response effort (and the economy) during the pandemic. “Their dedication and perseverance has enabled commerce to continue flowing during a time of great risk to their personal health and well-being, ensuring the goods we want and need are available when and where we need them," Connor said. 

Two members of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) have also called for mariners and longshoremen to have priority access to the vaccine. 

"The maritime and port workforces have been and continue to be an underpublicized success story in keeping our Nation afloat during the economic dislocation caused by COVID-19. If the maritime, port, and sealift workforces are infected, then our supply chain essentially will become infected," wrote commissioners Carl W. Bentzel and Daniel B. Maffei in a letter to the CDC earlier this month. "It is imperative we ensure port operations and continuity of the labor workforce through the provision of protective health supplies, rapid testing supplies, and vaccination availability."

As an example of the risk to the supply chain, Bentzel and Maffei pointed to three COVID outbreaks at American seaports within the last month, affecting the ports of Charleston, Philadelphia and LA / Long Beach. These incidents impacted the health of the workforce, and they required quarantine measures and threatened the regular movement of freight, they reported.