An overwhelming number of Cruise Passenger readers say cruise lines should make it mandatory for both crew and guests to get vaccinated against COVID before they sail.
In an exclusive survey of readers this week, 295 voted for the vaccines to be mandatory, and only 38 suggested it should be voluntary.
It was a polarising issue that had some saying it would be absolutely necessary, while others maintained they would never cruise again if being vaccinated was a prerequisite to cruise.
But legally, can cruise lines make passengers get a vaccine before they sail? Especially while there is a debate in the wider community about whether it is right, and fears among young women in particular about the lack of testing among their cohort.
Vaccination requirements is not a new concept for travel. Countries like South America and Africa require all travellers to get a yellow fever vaccine before entering.
The Department of Health recommends that travellers heading overseas get immunised against a number of diseases and to consult a doctor or visit a travel health clinic six to 12 weeks before you travel.
And cruise lines historically have preferred to put the enforcement of vaccines on ports and countries, rather than taking it upon themselves.
Currently, many nations require visitors to have a negative COVID test before arrival. An example, passengers who sailed on Paul Gauguin last year were required by the French Polynesian government to produce proof of a negative COVID test.
America’s tough CDC is demanding proof of a negative COVID test before allowing air passengers can enter the country.
And the province of Ontario in Canada, which approved the Pfizer vaccine, said some activities such as travel, or live events could require “proof of protection” for participation.
Cruise Passenger spoke to one cruise travel agent who said that while. it is too early for cruise lines to make a decision, they said they would not be willing to travel or cruise without a safety guarantee.
“I couldn’t imagine stepping onboard a cruise with people from around the world, particularly in badly affected regions like America and Europe, without some reassurance that I am safe,” they said.
“And the only way the moment to curb that, is to potentially make vaccinations to cruise, to fly and to travel, mandatory.”
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said the cruise company, which is advocating for crew vaccination, is looking into whether it has the legal standing to mandate vaccinations for guests.
Mr Del Rio told John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Group, “It will certainly be a requirement for the crew,” he said
“But it’s too early to tell whether we have the legal standing to mandate that you take a vaccine to come onboard – lawyers are looking at it as we speak. But there is talk beginning to emerge from different corners of the travel industry, the airlines as well, of requiring some kind of immunity passport demonstrating that you’ve had the virus or been vaccinated so that you are good to go. We have to build confidence in our customers and among ourselves that it’s safe to cruise.”
A NCLH spokeswoman confirmed that crew will be required to be vaccinated Seatrade Cruise News but was unable to provide details about how that will be undertaken and who bears the cost.
“It is our intention that all crew members be vaccinated before boarding our vessels to begin their duties, subject to availability of the vaccine.”
Mark Conroy the managing director of Silversea in the Americas told Seatrade, “It would be an ideal situation for the cruise industry to get the crews vaccinated. We just don’t know when we will be able to make that will happen.”
Earlier this year, the Cruise Lines International Association revealed a number of protocols which relied heavily or pre cruise testing. But given the nature of COVID, CLIA hinted that perhaps vaccines could be part of the global health cruise protocols.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Managing Director Australasia, Joel Katz said, “The roll-out of vaccines in many parts of the world is obviously an enormous step forward in the global response to the pandemic. Clearly, many of us are keen to learn more as health authorities determine the timing and logistics of their vaccination programs and work through the detail of their implementation processes.
“The cruise industry is examining vaccine developments very carefully and is consulting with health authorities and medical advisors around the world. The extensive health protocols that cruise lines have developed in response to Covid-19 are being adopted by CLIA cruise lines on a global basis, and these have been designed to adapt to new medical advances as they emerge.
Some lines also indicated that vaccines would be an important part to play along with pre-cruise testing.
In a video released to the travel industry on 14 December, just days after Quantum of the Seas sailing in Singapore was halted due to a false positive test result, Royal Caribbean’s Group President and CEO Richard Fain acknowledged that the industry might have to lean more heavily on the vaccine.
“The new testing and medications aren’t curbing the spread as quickly as so many had anticipated,” Mr Fain said.
“We had hoped that the combination of tests, protective protocols and treatments would enable the restart of cruising as early as this month, but the scale of the spread and the reaction to the increased prevalence throughout the country has made that impossible.
“However, the arrival of highly efficacious vaccines is a game-changer…. Now we don’t have to rely solely on testing and health protocols.”