Vaccinate Front-Line Transport Heroes

Maritime Industry and Workers are Critical Infrastructure

By Margaret A. Kidd, University of Houston
Rising from the ashes of 9/11, the U.S. pivoted to a new world order; an order where national security, critical infrastructure and resilience were redefined. At the forefront of what became a national policy conversation was the identification, prioritization and protection of critical infrastructure.

As our nation approaches the 20th anniversary of 9/11, while at the same time combatting the Covid-19 pandemic, there remains a valuable lesson learned from 9/11, which is a relevant policy response to the Covid-19 challenges faced today by critical infrastructure front-line workers.

Critical workers such as first responders during 9/11 and the front-line workers that followed for cleanup were exposed at high levels to toxic fumes and dust. Thousands became ill with respiratory conditions and cancer linked to exposure to 9/11 environs. It took 18 years before there was an adequate national response in the form of the Victim Compensation Fund Reauthorization Act 2019. There remains a window of opportunity to use lessons learned from these front-line workers to equitably address our current front-line critical infrastructure workers.

Pertinent to current front-line critical infrastructure workers in the maritime transportation sector – including marine, trucking, rail, air, warehouse and logistics – is priority access to Covid-19 vaccines. These women and men are critical support for crucial supply chains and maintenance of critical infrastructure.

Capt. William “Bill” G. Schubert, former Administrator, U.S. Maritime Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation, commented: “What we witnessed through the March-April 2020 timeframe was U.S. supply chains holding up under tremendous pressure and adjusting to a new normal, but if they had broken down our country would have faced the apocalypse.”

Establishing Real Priorities

While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency affirms essential critical infrastructure workers have allocation to scarce resources to protect against Covid-19, the irony is they are not on the 1b priority list for vaccination in the U.S., and at the same time they are responsible for the logistics and distribution of the very vaccines that could protect them.

Lamentably, there has been no implementation of a national policy for vaccine prioritization, as individual states have the power to prioritize vaccine distribution. The very nature of the work environment in the marine transportation sector, such as working in close proximity to co-workers or members of the public, inability to perform work remotely, length of time workers are exposed to each other and/or the public, and the number of contacts they have during a typical workday, exacerbate the risk these workers face daily, as they work to maintain core societal functions.

Supply chain disruption is a national security issue. Minimizing the impact of workers in the maritime transportation sector contracting Covid-19 can be accomplished with priority access to vaccines.

Implementation of this tactical risk mitigation strategy minimizes the impact of disruption and contributes to national security. Failure mode is no longer about a lack of toilet paper or bleach in the grocery store, it is about avoiding economic collapse of the system.

Securing long-term economic recovery at the global, national, regional and local scale requires the flow of goods and international trade to move efficiently and effectively. The collective voices of the overreaching maritime transportation sector must ring the bell in unison for allocation and distribution of the vaccine to these true front-line heroes.  

Margaret A. Kidd is program director for the Supply Chain & Logistics Technology department’s bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the College of Technology, University of Houston. She is also leading the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport’s (UK) expansion to U.S. universities and colleges.

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