Worldwide progress against the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, but the union recently got some unwelcome reminders that it’s definitely not finished.
Six Seafarers from the Maersk Montana, four from the Millville (Keystone) and three from the USNS Curtiss (Crowley) tested positive for the novel coronavirus while aboard the respective vessels (as did some officers from two of the ships). All of them bounced back, but three from the Maersk ship had been hospitalized in Bahrain, including two who spent time in the intensive care unit.
Perhaps as if to underscore the importance of vaccines, four of the five relief crew members sent for the Montana tested negative for COVID-19 before boarding. All had been vaccinated. The lone individual who wasn’t vaccinated, tested positive (and therefore didn’t sign onto the ship). Across the United States, more than 159.3 million people had been fully vaccinated around press time, and nearly 25 million others had received the first dose of a two-shot regimen against the virus. Within the SIU, most (though not all) personnel at union headquarters, the hiring halls and the union-affiliated school in Piney Point, Maryland, had been fully vaccinated before Independence Day.
As previously reported, recently updated rules at the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education allow fully vaccinated individuals to leave the base, though numerous safeguards remain in place. The school also continues working with local health agencies to facilitate vaccinations for students and staff who want them.
Two other pandemic-related topics dominated recent headlines: the delta variant, and the question about whether vaccine boosters are needed.
On July 9, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a joint statement that rules out any current need for booster shots. The statement reads, “The United States is fortunate to have highly effective vaccines that are widely available for those aged 12 and up. People who are fully vaccinated are protected from severe disease and death, including from the variants currently circulating in the country such as Delta. People who are not vaccinated remain at risk. Virtually all COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are among those who are unvaccinated. We encourage Americans who have not yet been vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves and their community.
“Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time,” the statement continued. “FDA, CDC, and NIH (National Institutes of Health) are engaged in a science-based, rigorous process to consider whether or when a booster might be necessary. This process takes into account laboratory data, clinical trial data, and cohort data – which can include data from specific pharmaceutical companies, but does not rely on those data exclusively. We continue to review any new data as it becomes available and will keep the public informed. We are prepared for booster doses if and when the science demonstrates that they are needed.”
Also on July 9, the CDC updated its “Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools,” essentially advocating for a return to in-person instruction this fall.
In part, the updated guidance reads, “Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports. Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated. Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.”
Moreover, as of mid-July, delta variant of COVID-19 was present in all 50 states and already had become dominant in many parts of the country. It had grown in prevalence by a factor of five in less than one month.
“Although we expected the delta variant to become the dominant strain in the United States, this rapid rise is troubling,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House news briefing in early July.
Elsewhere, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) continues spearheading efforts to improve vaccine access for mariners around the world. That work has proven successful in the U.S., where at least 20,000 foreign crew members had been vaccinated in 72 American cities as of early July, according to SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, who also chairs the ITF Seafarers’ Section.