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. Mrs. Gina Venezia, Standard Club’s General Counsel, provides an update on the authorized vaccines in the US and feedback received from seafarers calling to US ports.
he decision now allows states in the US to continue administering the J&J vaccine. The J&J vaccine along with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines remain the only authorized vaccines in the US.
Mrs. Gina Venezia notes that since the pause on the J&J vaccine was lifted, the Club has received inquiries from operators 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
As the CDC says, 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. It also states that all providers taking part 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.
Moreover, 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.
As for seafarers, Mrs. Gina Venezia says that the Standard 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
Considering 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.
Concluding, Mrs. Gina Venezia also advises operators should to review the guidance published by industry bodies regarding the legal and insurance issues arising from vaccination of seafarers. Moreover, seafarers should consult with medical providers or authorities to address any concerns about potential side-effects that might be experienced or impact on crew complement.
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.
added Mrs. Gina Venezia, General Counsel, The Standard P&I Club.