Ship-top vaccinations help keep freighters hauling

Courtesy Photo A health care worker climbs aboard a freighter at the Soo Locks in May to deliver vaccinations to sailors.

ALPENA — Sailors aboard Great Lakes freighters got a shot in the arm when nurses in Sault Ste. Marie grabbed coolers and needles and climbed 25-foot ladders to deliver COVID-19 vaccinations over the past two months.

Health officials delivered more than 300 vaccinations on 25 ships at the Soo Locks, a coordinated effort between the Chippewa County Health Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

District Health Department No. 4 took part in the Shots on Ships — or SOS — program, delivering vaccinations to at least one ship in Presque Isle County.

Many sailors were unable to receive vaccines in their home states before reporting for work for the 2021 sailing season, according to Eric Peace, operations and communications director for the Lake Carriers’ Association.

The SOS program, which put to good use excess vaccinations not needed by local health departments, will promote the efficient delivery of the iron ore, limestone, and other raw materials in high demand as construction ramps up across the country, Peace said.

Early in this sailing season, sailors on one freighter in the Lake Carriers’ Association fleet tested positive for COVID-19. The ship was taken to a Milwaukee port, where it was cleaned and the crew was replaced.

Sailors are tested before boarding ships, but the virus went undetected and slipped onboard. As vaccinations reach more of the association’s 1,000-plus sailors, the shipping industry will more efficiently deliver the supplies manufacturers need for the roads and building projects put off last year because of the pandemic, Peace said.

Iron ore shipments in May were up 11% compared to May of 2020, still 2% below the month’s 5-year average.

The 3.7 million tons of limestone shipped by the Lake Carriers’ Association in May was about 5% more than during the same month last year.


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