(12:10 p.m.) -- In a sign that cruise lines are embracing the recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention encouraging fully vaccinated ships, U.S. ports and cruise lines have launched efforts to get seafarers vaccinated.
Port Canaveral claimed status as the first to give jabs to cruise ship crew, with officials announcing their COVID-19 vaccination program started Friday. The only ship in port that day was Disney Dream.
PortMiami followed over the weekend, and the Port of Galveston is lining up crew for vaccines beginning Monday. At the same time, MSC Cruises said Saturday it has started a fleetwide COVID-19 vaccination program.
Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean, posted photos Saturday showing crew on Explorer of the Seas getting shots, and he said the crew of Liberty of the Seas and Celebrity Equinox would be vaccinated Sunday. PortMiami’s program is expected to cover 900 crew this week, the shots delivered by Nomi Health.
"It is going to be extremely important our crew are vaccinated," Bayley wrote on Facebook. "We are working to help make this possible and have been assured vaccine availability will significantly improve in the coming weeks and months globally. I encourage all crew to get vaccinated at home if possible and to be guided by their national health authority."
In updated guidance last week, the CDC did not require that all cruise lines adopt vaccine mandates for crew and passengers. The agency did, however, say that cruise lines that can meet having 98 percent of their crew and 95 percent of their passengers vaccinated will be able to skip test cruises, possibly making their return to sailing faster and closer to the mid-July timeframe.
While many cruise lines have made decisions on vaccination requirements to restart internationally, some companies such as Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Group have pointed out that those mandates were specific to the countries they were sailing in, and not necessarily the U.S.
Nonetheless, U.S. ports are gearing up. In a news release, Port Canaveral says it moved quickly after Florida health officials expanded vaccine eligibility to include those in the state "for purpose of providing good or services for the benefit of residents and visitors of the State of Florida."
John Murray, CEO of Port Canaveral, said in a prepared statement that the port, working with the Parrish Healthcare Center at Cape Canaveral, Canaveral Fire Rescue and cruise line personnel, has the capacity to deliver up to 1,000 COVID-19 shots per day for crew, shoreside and waterside support personnel.
"This expanded eligibility is significantly important for our cruise tourism business, and we're proud of our efforts to help get this industry up and running," Murray said.
In Galveston, local media reported that 350 crew on Carnival Breeze and Carnival Vista would be the first in line for Pfizer vaccines administered by teams from the University of Texas Medical Branch. Both ships returned to the port for the first time in more than a year over the weekend.
"Their intentions are to stay here, crew up, and do some work on the ships. So they'll be here when it's time to start cruising, and we're hoping that it’'s quick," Port of Galveston CEO Rodger Rees told ABC13.
MSC Cruises said the captain and crew of MSC Bellissima completed their vaccinations Saturday.
MSC said its initial phase will focus on crew members on 10 ships that are already scheduled for summertime sailings in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe as well as those the line has earmarked to restart sailings in the Caribbean out of U.S. ports. Crew of flagship MSC Virtuosa are scheduled to be vaccinated before the ship's maiden voyage May 20 from Southampton.
The move toward vaccination is new for MSC, which has resumed sailing in Europe without requirements to get the shot. Instead, the line has been sailing based on testing requirements for crew and passengers, as well as maintaining cruise "bubbles" when people get off the ships for excursions.
"As our ships prepare to welcome more and more guests over the coming weeks and months, we are pleased to announce the start of a comprehensive plan of vaccinations for all of our crew," Gianni Onorato, CEO, MSC Cruises, said in a prepared statement. "Our aim is of adding a further level of protection for both themselves and the guests they will welcome for their holidays as we lead the way in the industry’s restart this summer."