The administration of the vaccine against COVID-19 will, hopefully, mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic. The distribution of the vaccine is taking place in accordance with a tiered system in the UK, where front-line workers and older citizens take priority. Fortunately, seafarers are classified as "key workers" in the UK and efforts are being made to ensure the early administration of the vaccine to them.
Clearly the maritime industry will have to overcome operational hurdles to administer the vaccine to its seafarers. This is because the approved vaccines are required to be administered in two doses to confer the best protection against the virus. The second dose has to be given within a certain number of days of the first dose.
The storage or administration of the vaccine on board vessels is not recommended for various reasons. These include the potential change of temperature where the vaccine is stored that might impact its effectiveness, and an inability to treat potential allergic reactions to the vaccine on board. The practical implication of that is that a sea voyage might have to be interrupted to reach a port in order to administer to a seafarer, on board the vessel, the second dose of the vaccine.
Disputes may arise as to which party will pay the costs incurred, for instance due to deviation or due to a non scheduled port stop in order to administer the second dose of the vaccine to crew on board. Parties entering into maritime contracts are advised to consider the above during their commercial negotiations and include wording in their contracts that deals with likely scenarios. In addition, parties with long-term contracts should also consider whether they are covered under the existing clauses or whether they need to amend the charter to clarify how they will facilitate the potential need to administer the vaccine to their seafarers.
As two historic vaccines undergo distribution to slow the spread of COVID-19, the maritime industry must confront the unique operational obstacles we face in administering them.