Nurses administer COVID vaccines to seamen docked at Port Tampa Bay

International cargo ships sail into the Port of Tampa with seafarers every day. Those on the ships are not allowed off if they are not vaccinated, so two Tampa organizations started a program to help the seamen get time on dry land by providing the shots.

Andrew Matieiev spends most of his days at sea, traveling on cargo ships from port to port. 

"My last ship, I was five months and seven days. And my previous time, I was also five months. And the previous, previous time I was eight months," he said.

Andrew and his crew members aren't able to get off their ships when they dock at port if they are not vaccinated.

"I think it's very important to make a vaccine for all people, not only for seafarers, because it's our protection. When we make vaccine, we protect our world and we protect each other," he said.

Protection is coming to seafarers thanks to a collaboration between USF College of Nursing and Tampa Port Ministries. They started a COVID-19 vaccination program last year.

 "People that are coming into our port are coming from all over the world," Susan Perry, College of Nursing at University of South Florida said. "So we have an obligation to make sure that they're protected when they go out of the port to other countries and to make sure that we're protecting our port workers and our city when people come in from around the nation, the nation and around the world."  

When ships are docked, USF nurses board the vessels and administer COVID-19 vaccines to crew members. 

"We want our nurses to understand. And our nursing students do understand that it's not just what happens in the hospital. It's what happens in the community. And Port Tampa Bay is one of our largest employers in this area," Perry said. 

University of South Florida College of Nursing faculty member Denise Maguire says the effort is a big shot in the arm for seafarers. 

"By vaccinating them, you're still helping everyone at the port so they can not spread the virus and ideally slow it down. Or at least they won't get so sick if they get sick, right? So it helps everybody, right?" she said.

They have vaccinated about a thousand men from 50 countries. 

"For the guys that work on the ships, they're traveling around the world and going to various ports in and felt completely unprotected," Steve Finnesy, Chaplain Tampa Port Ministries said. "So for us, it's as much a mental health issue for them as it is a physical health issue."   

Port employees are also eligible for the shot and later this year the group is going to open up a free clinic at the Tampa Port Ministries center.