The European Commission and European Union member states should develop a specific COVID-19 vaccination protocol for fishers, which also adapts and prioritizes their access to the vaccine, thereby keeping “essential fishing operations running,” according to the European fisheries association Europêche and the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF).
In a press release, Europêche and ETF said that fishers are regarded as essential workers and this, along with the “particularities” of their workplaces and working patterns, needs to be taken into consideration.
Unlike many other workers, fishers are limited in what they can do to avoid infection in their workplaces, and their work takes place in confined spaces where it is impossible to maintain physical distance, thus creating a high risk of coronavirus transmissibility, the partners said.
They also highlighted the long periods of stay onboard vessels make it challenging to immunize crews according to any pre-established schedule created for the E.U.'s general population.
“The fisheries sector has been recognized as an essential and strategic sector during the pandemic for its vital work in the supply of seafood and food security,” Ment van der Zwan, the Europêche spokesperson in the European social dialogue, said. “To protect the supply, we need to protect the workers that support it and guarantee their speedy access to vaccines.”
The partners have also put forward practical guidelines to help accelerate the process of establishing new vaccination protocols for fishers. These call for prioritized vaccination for fishers, coordination of vaccinations through national authorities, and, where possible, provision of single-dose vaccines for workers who remain on board for long periods.
They also emphasized the need to establish a right to receive vaccination not only in the flag state but also in their country of residence and in port states.
“This vaccination must be available for all crews operating under European-flagged vessels, whatever their nationality,” ETF Fisheries Section Chair Juan Manuel Trujillo Castillo said. “This is common sense, particularly for the numerous fishing crews working on vessels that operate for weeks without returning to port.”
The appeal aligns with the recent call of five United Nations agencies – namely the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Labor Organization (ILO), International Maritime Organization (IMO), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the World Health Organization (WHO) – encouraging governments to “give priority to fishers, seafarers, and aircraft crews in their national vaccination programs.”
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