The government of Belgium has expanded its seafarer vaccination campaign to include all seafarers visiting Belgian ports, regardless of nationality.
Starting today, mobile medical teams will have the ability to go on board vessels offering single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines to crews, according to the Royal Belgian Shipowners’ Association which helped organize the campaign.
Belgium joins other countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany and Greece as one of the few countries currently providing vaccines to seafarers. It’s the first to do so on board ships with a mobile medical team.
Vaccines are available to all seafarers who are staying and working on board a vessel docked in a Belgian port, as well as those signing on or off from vessels within the country.
“The fight against COVID-19 is not limited to Belgium, it is a global effort. Shipping, as a symbol of world trade, employs more than 1.5 million seafarers of diverse nationalities,” said Vincent Van Quickenborne, Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the North Sea. “For many of them, vaccines are out of reach in their own country and they are left exposed to the virus. In response to this global emergency, Belgium as a country with the world’s largest ports, is taking the lead in making vaccines accessible to all seafarers who arrive by sea. We call on other countries to likewise prioritize the vaccination of this essential group. Only then can the continuity of global trade be guaranteed.”
Swiss-based shipping company MSC says a lack of vaccinations has become an additional obstacle for seafarers who are already bearing a heavy toll from the restrictions set by the pandemic.
“MSC would like to thank the Belgian government, the Royal Belgian shipowners’ Association and the Antwerp maritime community for offering critical support for the international seafarers community,” said Marc Beerlandt, Managing Director MSC Belgium. “Lack of access to COVID-19 vaccinations has been putting global supply chains under increasing pressure. With the global movement of crew already heavily restricted, and hundreds of thousands of seafarers who have kept the world moving amid COVID-19 lockdowns still stuck at sea, lack of access to vaccines risks serious disruption to global supply chains.”
Belgium is home to the Port of Antwerp, the second largest port in Europe and an important hub for European trade.
“With the success of the vaccination campaign’s first phase for Belgian seafarers, we can now roll out the second phase for all seafarers,” said Wilfried Lemmens, Managing Director of the Royal Belgian Shipowners’ Association (RBSA). “We should not be blind to the fact that many seafarers of all nationalities have limited or no access to vaccination in their own country. It is also a humanitarian responsibility for all countries to provide the necessary protection against the virus for seafarers. This is an important sign of gratitude towards seafarers for keeping the supply chains up and running.”
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