At this writing, a 90-year-old British grandmother became the very first person who was reported to have received a vaccine against COVID-19. The two vaccines that are being approved so far, developed by Pfizer and Moderna, are both two-step vaccines (requiring two doses) that need specially designed containers with dry ice and lithium batteries to keep them at very cold temperatures. A third vaccine on the horizon, being developed by AstraZeneca, requires only one dose.
None of this welcome news means the rest of us can exhale and relax just yet. Distributing the coronavirus vaccines worldwide has been described as the most complex feat of logistics since the Normandy landings. It will take many months. Before the distributions can begin, the question has to be asked and answered: who will get the vaccines, and in what order?
In the U.S., the body responsible for answering that question is the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, made up of doctors and medical professionals, which advises the Centers for Disease Control. It notes on its website, “Demand is expected to exceed supply during the first months of the national COVID-19 vaccination program.” It recommends that first places in line go to healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities. For more detailed recommendations, it is awaiting formal FDA approval of the vaccines.
Mariners surely deserve to be in the first tier of priority recipients, along with other critical transportation workers. The International Maritime Organization made just this point recently following a resolution passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations urging recognition of the plight of blue-water mariners, many of whom have been trapped for months on quarantined vessels.
It’s fortunate that inland crews have been able to rotate, thanks to the extensive safety and sanitary precautions put in place by towing companies. The American Waterways Operators reports that the CDC has already accepted the designation of inland towing industry workers as essential workers, which is encouraging. It only makes sense that inland crews be among the first groups to receive vaccines. They move a disproportionate amount of cargo that keeps the U.S. economy going and people employed. Although perhaps not as exposed as health-care personnel, they are also frontline workers.