Development and approvals of a Covid-19 vaccine are moving at an amazingly fast speed, and news that the UK began immunizing its most vulnerable residents today is a huge step forward. Here in the U.S., we’re waiting for federal approval of the first coronavirus vaccine by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to come in the next few days. Then the tough decisions must be made about who will receive the first doses, and how the complex national distribution of the vaccine will be executed.

In the meantime, we’re all wondering when we’re going to get it. Will it be early next year, late spring, early summer, or next fall? (Let’s hope it’s not that long)

For those in the maritime industry, a poke of the needle might come sooner than later.

It’s very possible that those working in the maritime trades, like many others deemed to be essential workers, will have priority for early vaccination in a second phase of immunizations. Health workers and those living in care homes will receive the first rollout.

In August, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency classified maritime workers as essential to keep the economy going during the pandemic, meaning they were expected to work even during state lockdowns. The agency’s overall list of essential workers included some 55 million people in a wide array of critical industries, ranging from postal and grocery store workers to tugboat operators.

As federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mull guidance for Phase 2 allocation, it will likely rely on the cybersecurity agency’s classifications of essential workers when deciding who should be next in line. States will ultimately have the final word on categorizing essential workers, most probably based on risk exposure to the disease. All states are now developing their own distribution plans, which will likely be informed by the federal recommendations.

This could result in states making different decisions based on science and politics. Louisiana, for example, with a large number of maritime workers, could prioritize them, while another state with a smaller maritime industry might not. There is tremendous pressure coming from all kinds of industries to have their workers prioritized, which makes decision-making even harder. But if the past is any guide, states will essentially follow DHS cybersecurity agency recommendations on essential maritime workers when making lockdown decisions this spring and summer.

The American Waterways Operators, the national association of the tug and barge industry, has been urging federal advisory committees to include maritime workers as a priority and said that there have been positive signs that they will. “We are encouraged because the CDC, when talking about essential workers, deferred to the cyber agency recommendations, and that comprehensive guidance includes specific reference to the maritime industry and a number of positions within the industry to be considered part of the essential work class for vaccine distribution,” Caitlyn Stewart, AWO’s senior director for regulatory affairs, told WorkBoat last week. “That’s an encouraging data point.”

She said there are many moving parts to the decision-making process, “but we feel that things are moving in the right direction to ensure that essential workers, including maritime workers, are able to qualify for vaccinations during phase two.”

Going forward, she said AWO will work to make sure that vaccine allocation goes smoothly for barge industry workers. As it did during state lockdowns when it provided template letters that companies could use stating that their workers were essential and should be allowed free movement among states and airports, AWO could provide a similar document stating qualifications of maritime workers for the vaccine, Stewart said, adding that AWO will be looking for other ways to assist as well.

The Maritime Administration this week also urged assigning priority to maritime workers for early vaccination “given the ongoing role (they) will play in moving critical medical supplies, PPE and vaccines.” Marad noted that several ports experienced Covid-19 outbreaks in the past month, a troubling situation at a time when there are great demands to move freight through the nation’s ports.

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.