The best defence is a good offence - Why vaccinations matter

A regular Crew Health team review of seafarer medical statistics found the main cause of crew failing the medical was active Hepatitis B – an immunisable and preventable illness. 

1012 cases of Hepatitis B, representing 8.7% of total unfitness cases, were discovered over the 20 years of the Programme history. Somewhat surprising perhaps when we consider a vaccine for Hepatitis B is readily available and can be administered at any stage either prior or during crew training or even at the pre-employment examination. (For more information on Hepatitis B please see our PEME advice Hepatitis B – The silent epidemic)

In addition to Hepatitis, the Club has seen an increase in the notification of Chickenpox cases onboard. Chickenpox, often dismissed as a ‘childhood’ illness, can be severely debilitating if contracted in later life, and can have serious implications for people with low immune systems.

An effective way to prevent infections onboard ship is good personal hygiene,: regular washing of hands, take a shower regularly, brushing your teeth, and also regular washing of personal clothes and bedding.

However, for seafarers who travel worldwide often just the above steps are not enough. Vaccination is the most effective method to prevent the spread of common, preventable, illnesses onboard. .

The Club’s Crew Health programme investigated the cost of immunisations in numerous locations within their approved clinic network.  Whilst costs do
vary depending on location many are very reasonably priced and in some countries certain vaccines are even offered free.

Seafarers often travel to many destinations around the globe and each port may bring its own disease or illness.  Also, because of their often long periods of time without receiving any medical care, that it is recommended crew obtain early vaccination. Certain specific infections, such as: yellow fever, Hepatitis A & B, Typhoid fever, etc., are al readily preventable but cannot be treated on a ship and can have serious consequences.

Just because crew members may be regular travellers to the same part of the globe, doesn’t mean vaccinations should be skipped.  Seafarers are not alone on the ship and it is impossible to know if all members of the crew have had their vaccination or if they may have an active infection, sometimes without symptoms or even knowing it. Cross infection in confined spaces is a very real possibility.

The UK P&I Club encourages Shipowners to consider early intervention through the introduction of a vaccination programme at crew entry level.  Immunisation is advised for all crew to ensure maximum prevention of disease.  Additionally, if required at a later stage, crew could also be vaccinated as part of their pre-employment medical examination.

Seafarers are also encouraged to upkeep their vaccinations up to date.  A seafarer who can fight the infection will be able to continue in his job and be efficient on board. In a worst case scenario, a sick seafarer may need to be repatriated, putting more pressure on his fellow members, and risking the spread of the infection to the rest of the crew.

The UK P&I Club Crew Health team are available for further queries on vaccinations; please contact the Crew Health team at: peme.ukclub@thomasmiller.com

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