News: COVID-19 vaccination of foreign seafarers in the United States

News & Insights 5 May 2021

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On 23 April 2021, US federal health regulators lifted a recommended pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson or Janssen (J&J) single-shot Covid-19 vaccine. The decision allows states in the US to resume administering the J&J...

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On 23 April 2021, US federal health regulators lifted a recommended pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson or Janssen (J&J) single-shot Covid-19 vaccine. The decision allows states in the US to resume administering the J&J vaccine. The J&J vaccine along with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines remain the only authorized vaccines in the US.

Since the pause on the J&J vaccine was lifted, the club has received inquiries from members about the possibility of foreign seafarers receiving the J&J vaccine during port calls to the US. Some members have been approached by a purported third-party service provider offering to arrange such vaccinations at significant cost to the member. The club is not familiar with this provider or the services it offers.  If members are approached about implementing an onboard crew-wide vaccination program during a call to the US, the following may be useful to consider.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is one of the federal agencies responsible for the US vaccination program. According to the CDC, all Covid-19 vaccine in the US has been purchased by the federal government for administration exclusively by enrolled providers through the CDC vaccination program. See www.cdc.gov.  CDC guidance states that all providers participating in the program must administer the vaccine at no out-of-pocket cost to the recipient and may not charge for an office visit or other fee if the vaccination is the sole medical service provided. Only providers enrolled in the program are authorized to administer vaccine or provide vaccination services. The CDC warns providers as follows:

The vaccine remains U.S. government property until administered to the recipient. COVID-19 vaccination providers are prohibited from selling USG-purchased COVID-19 vaccine (and ancillary materials purchased by the USG for use in the Vaccination Program), soliciting or receiving any inducement, whether direct or indirect, for vaccinating (or providing COVID-19 vaccine to be used for vaccinating) any individual who is not currently eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine as a member of a group currently authorized under prioritization specified by HHS/CDC/ACIP, the state/territory’s governor or other relevant public health authority, or otherwise diverting COVID-19 vaccine from the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Program. Such use constitutes fraud and is a violation of the terms of the provider agreement.

CDC published guidance does not reflect the creation of a publicly available fee-based vaccination program. Fees quoted to members may therefore not be consistent with US policy.

The Covid vaccine is purchased by the US federal government and then allocated to state and local jurisdictions and other federal partners for administration and distribution. The states have the authority to determine the distribution and prioritisation plans within their jurisdictions. The state-selected criteria govern the eligibility of individuals to receive a Covid vaccine within the state. Some states authorized providers to administer the vaccine only to state residents. Other states (like New York) have lifted their residency requirements and allow the vaccine to be administered also to those working or studying in the state. Others (like Texas) appear to  have lifted residency or work requirements, leaving age as the criteria for determining eligibility. See, e.g., www.dshs.texas.gov/covidfaccine/. In addition to the state eligibility requirements, local authorities within a state may also impose requirements on vaccine eligibility.

The club is not aware of a published distribution plan which expressly refers to foreign seafarers onboard vessels calling to ports within a state. This leaves the question of whether the plan in a state or locale generally encompasses such seafarers within the broader groups of eligible vaccine recipients. Given the varied approaches by the states and the lack of clear published guidance or plans referring to foreign seafarers, the requirements of local health authorities should be consulted to ensure legitimacy and the permissibility of having a vaccine offered to foreign crewmembers while onboard vessels in US ports. Those requirements and frequently asked questions are usually posted by US federal and state health departments on their official websites.

Members are also advised to review the guidance published by industry bodies last month on the legal and insurance issues arising from vaccination of seafarers, a copy of which is available for download with the club’s 24 March 2021 news alert. Additionally, members may want to consult with medical providers or authorities to address any concerns about potential side-effects that might be experienced or impact on crew complement. While the costs of onboard vaccination do not fall within the scope of club cover, any illness or severe reaction to a vaccine administered onboard would likely be covered under rule 3.1.1 in the ordinary manner – for more information, see sections 3.1.4 and 3.2.1 of the International Chamber of Shipping guidance attached to our news alert of 24 March.

The vaccination program in the US is rapidly evolving. The club continues to monitor developments. Members should consult with local port agents and usual club contacts for up-to-date information. 

Category: COVID-19

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