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COVID-19 Vaccine is Rolling Out. What's Next for Commercial Fishermen?

The global COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the global economy, supply chains, and business operations for everyone in 2020 and none more so commercial fishermen. Fishing operations in Alaska were strongly impacted, as the State of Alaska enacted strict quarantine rules on vessels and crews entering from out of state. The rules were aimed at preventing the introduction of the coronavirus into Alaska's remote communities, where the nearest ICU may be hundreds of air miles away.

Those measures appear to have been largely successful, as there were no widespread outbreaks during the commercial fishing season. However, now that vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 are beginning to be distributed, we are all wondering how soon we can get back to normal operations and life in general.

A recent article published in ScienceNews offers a glimpse of what may be on tap for 2021. The short version is that we shouldn't expect things to return to normal for some months yet. Beyond questions of how long it will take to produce vaccines and get people vaccinated, there are a lot of unanswered questions about how these vaccines will affect the course of the pandemic. Here are some of the questions the article tries to answer.

Can you still get infected, and infect others, if you get vaccinated?

That might not be the first question you had, but the answer to this question will tell us a lot about getting back to normal life. It turns out that that the vaccines weren't tested to see if they stop the transmission of the virus. They were tested to see if they prevent people from getting sick from the virus if they're exposed.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are really effective at preventing people from developing disease symptoms. But, it's too soon to know if vaccinated people can still pick up the virus and infect others. Wearing face masks and keeping physically distant from others are measures intended to prevent the transmission of the virus. How well the vaccines control the spread of virus will help to determine when we can abandon those measures.

So how are these vaccines useful?

Not getting sick from the virus is a really big deal to people who are infected. It should prevent the damage to heart, lungs, and other organs that some people get. It will reduce the number of people admitted to hospitals, freeing up beds and medical staff to attend to the many other medical needs we all have. In a fishing operation, having a sick crewman means returning to port and a mandatory quarantine for the vessel and crew. In remote fishing ports this may involve and costly medevac for the stricken crew. That's lost fishing time and added expense that no one needs.

Will people still need to still wear a mask and socially distance after being vaccinated?

Yes. It will take close to a month to develop immunity after receiving both doses of the vaccine. As Peggy Hamburg, a former commissioner of the FDA said in a recent news conference, "...people have to understand this is not a magic wand...It's going to take time for the vaccine to get to everyone that needs it. And ...the vaccine will not be fully protective against infection and disease. So, we are still going to need to do those things that work: wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding large, congregate settings. And there's going to be a period of transition...But we are making real progress, and it is...really important that we all pull together during this critical period."

The entire article is well worth a read, as the authors discuss topics like vaccine safety and herd immunity (Spoiler alert: the vaccines are safe for most, but maybe not all. The impact on herd immunity is still uncertain.) Given all the questions that remain unanswered, it seems likely that for much of 2021, we'll be operating under the same restrictions as in 2020. That said, the development of effective vaccines against COVID-19 is a big step forward and one that we hope will take some of the uncertainty from your fishing season in 2021.


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