Port Canaveral becomes first U.S. port to start vaccinating cruise ship crews

Port Canaveral on Friday became the first U.S. port to coordinate COVID-19 vaccine distribution to cruise ship crew members, in advance of a possible return to cruising in July.

The U.S. cruise industry has been shut down since March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The vaccination of crew members will help accelerate a return to cruising.

Under the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, cruise ships can bypass the required simulated test voyages carrying volunteers and jump to sailings with paying passengers if 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated.

The start of vaccination efforts at Port Canaveral follows Thursday’s Florida public health advisory approved by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees. That advisory expanded vaccine eligibility in Florida to include individuals who are in the state for the purpose of providing goods or services for the benefit of residents and visitors of Florida.

“We have been working closely with our cruise partners, the Florida Department of Health and our port community to come up with a plan and timeline of vaccinating cruise ship crews that could begin the process for a safe return to cruising,” Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray said in a statement released late Friday. “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.”

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Port Canaveral officials did not disclose which cruise line was to first to participate in the effort.

But the Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream was the only cruise ship at Port Canaveral on Friday.

It is expected that a number of other cruise ships will be docking at Port Canaveral in the coming weeks, so their crew members can receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Port Canaveral was the world’s second-busiest cruise port, behind Miami, for cruise passenger counts before the pandemic. Four cruise lines had ships based at Port Canaveral before the pandemic — Carnival, Disney, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean. Additionally, MSC Cruises was planning to start cruises out of Port Canaveral last fall.

It also is possible that cruise ships not typically at Port Canaveral will be docking there so crew members can get vaccinated aboard the ships.

Port Canaveral said it developed its vaccination procedures in cooperation with the Parrish Healthcare Center, Canaveral Fire Rescue and cruise lines’ medical personnel.

The port said up to 1,000 COVID-19 vaccination shots a day can be provided to vessel crew members, as well as to shoreside and waterside support personnel.

The effort aligns with recommendations released late Wednesday by the CDC for a return to cruising in the United States.

Port Canaveral officials consulted with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and cruise line operators, as well as the CDC, to develop its vaccination model, which the port said is designed “to efficiently and expeditiously get vaccines disbursed to crew members and shoreside personnel.”

Officials from the CDC released new guidance, allowing cruise ships to sail with vaccinated crew and passengers as early as mid-July.

The change to the restart timeline comes after a month of twice-weekly meetings between the CDC’s maritime team and the cruise industry and ports, including Port Canaveral.

Port Canaveral and the surrounding tourism industry are anxious to get the cruise business restarted.

Port Canaveral has lost about $101.6 million in cruise-related revenue since March 2020. Murray said about 80% of the port’s overall revenue typically is related to cruises.

Additionally, the port has reduced its staff by 43% — from 268 positions to 153. That was done through a combination of 68 permanent layoffs, 17 unpaid furloughs, and not filling 30 positions that were left vacant because of retirement or employees taking jobs elsewhere.

The tourism industry in the nearby Cocoa Beach/Cape Canaveral area is heavily dependent on cruise passengers, who stay at local hotels, eat at local restaurants and frequent other local businesses before or after their cruises.

Dave Berman is business editor at FLORIDA TODAY. Follow him on Twitter @bydaveberman.


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