PORTLAND, Ore. — At ports up and down the Columbia River, and on the Willamette River in Portland as well, teams of medical providers are vaccinating seafarers. The international ship workers are from countries where COVID-19 vaccines are much less available than they are in the United States
The seafarers are very grateful to get vaccinated because their work life has been much tougher during the pandemic.
“During this pandemic, no vaccine, we are only here on board. So it's very difficult for us,” said Japhet Saavedra.
Saavedra is from the Philippines, as are other crew members aboard the Santiago Basin, a huge cargo ship currently docked in Portland. The ship is here offloading cement that come from Thailand. But ship workers must stay on board.
Saavedra explained that they have been stuck on their ships for many months during the pandemic due to quarantine rules in countries all over the world. And when they return home, they must quarantine for two weeks before being allowed to go home to family.
But getting vaccinated at home is virtually impossible, even for these essential workers, because vaccine supplies are very limited.
With ample supply in the United States, several groups connected to shipping and medical care have come together to vaccinate these international seafarers, in most cases at no cost.
"Volunteers in our ports are showing Americans still care. The ITF and North American Maritime Ministries Association are providing these essential workers the needed vaccinations that may not be available in their countries," said Martin Larson, with the International Transport Workers' Federation.
Larson said more than 1000 seafarers have been vaccinated at local ports since onboard clinics began in late May.
“The states of Washington and Oregon as well as county officials up and down the Columbia River have been incredibly supportive and have worked tirelessly to ensure that clinics, staff, vaccines, and other resources were available to seafarers,” added Kate Mickelson, Executive Director of the Columbia River Steamship Operators’ Association.
On Tuesday evening, a group organized by the International Transport Workers Federation boarded the Santiago Basin. The group included a pharmacist equipped with syringes and vials of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The mini-clinic on board vaccinated seafarer Saavedra, and several other crew members.
“For us it’s more fortunate to have U.S. brand vaccine, J & J, Pfizer, so it is a great opportunity for us, we are grateful,” said Saavedra, who added that vaccine produced in the United States is recognized as effective, which will allow them to disembark their ships without quarantine at ports around the world, including their home ports.
Pharmacist Sandy Le administered the vaccine aboard the Santiago Basin. She was done the same thing on nearly 40 ships since last May.
“These guys are so appreciative, like I feel really good for the end of my day that someone appreciates what we've given them and they're just happy to see us when we arrive.,” said Le, who is owner of Lecare Pharmacy in Portland.
Seafarer Edwin Lumantas had a big smile on his face as he got vaccinated Tuesday evening. “…Because I'm very happy, because when we go home in the Philippines we're not difficult to go anywhere, because we are now fully vaccinated.”
Other groups involved in the seafarer vaccination clinics include the nonprofit Community Health Partners and Cowlitz County Fire District #5 in Southwest Washington, and Medical Teams International, based in Portland. Federal agencies including the U.S. Coast Guard have helped facilitate the process.