Cruise Line Announces Vaccine is Mandatory

Saga Spirit of Discovery

Saga has announced that the COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory on all of its cruises. They are the first cruise line to announce this new policy. The question is will more lines follow?

At first this sounded like a good idea, but after some thought we have concerns. 

We don’t seem to be the only ones. Since Saga Holidays posted this new policy on Twitter just over 24 hours ago over 1500 angry tweeters have vented their frustrations, so much so that the account has been closed and hidden ever since. The anti-vax squad probably made up a large number of those posts, however, it raised some interesting questions.

Let’s start with a preface – we are pro-vaccination, and we want as many people to be vaccinated as soon as possible. We can’t understand the anti-vax point of view at all, if you can have it we think you should, not to protect yourself but others too. We have nothing against Saga, in fact, we love their product, we just have to question this move. Now that’s done, on with our issues.

Only passengers will be required to have a vaccination

This is our biggest issue. Crew members will not be required to be vaccinated. We think this is due to the fact it’s not a possibility at the moment as most crew members are too young or from countries where the vaccine is not readily available.

In the United Kingdom, the only way to receive the vaccine is through the National Health Service (NHS) You have to wait until you are called, the younger and more healthy you are, the longer you will wait. Older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions are at the top of the list and there’s no private option.

From Saga’s Q&A

Will crew and other staff aboard the ships also have the vaccine?

Our focus in the first instance is on our guests and ensuring all of them have been vaccinated, we have comprehensive COVID‑19 protocols in place to protect our crew, including quarantine and regular testing and as soon as crew can be vaccinated they will be.

We are surprised the line is promoting the fact that their main focus is to protect guests. Both guests and crew should be given equal protection. It sounds like the crew are an afterthought.

If the comprehensive protocols are good enough for the crew then why do they not suffice for passengers too? The fact that Saga is requiring passengers to be vaccinated is in contradiction to this.

Experts say people can still spread and even develop COVID-19 after getting the vaccine, potentially still bringing it onboard and endangering the crew or vice versa – crew passing it onto vaccinated individuals who remain asymptomatic and with their newfound vaccinated confidence unwittingly transmitting it to others after the cruise. It should be an all or nothing approach, either everyone is vaccinated or it’s shouldn’t be a policy until it’s a possibility. Robust on-board protocols and health and safety policies are the way forward.

What if you can’t have the vaccine?

In Saga’s Q&A section they say:

If you are exempt from receiving the vaccination you will be able to travel with us by confirming the exemption at the time of booking and again at the time of travel.

UPDATE: Saga has quietly and inexplicably reversed this policy. As of 8 pm 21/1/21, the website now states:

Sadly we would not be able to allow you to cruise and would ask that you contact our Cruise Guest Services who will be able to discuss your options with you and arrange a full refund.

So this now counts out pregnant women and those with allergies to vaccines, something that is considered a disability.

Cruise vaccine

How are they going to verify medical information?

From Saga’s Q&A:

How will you check that I have received the vaccine?

You will be required to bring the vaccination document and/or evidence with you as proof at the time of boarding.

The vaccination document and evidence referred to here simply do not exist. No official vaccination document is being given out, just a business-sized appointment card with a reminder of your second vaccination date and time. This document can be easily forged and replicated, in fact, we’ve found several sellers on eBay already producing perfect counterfeits. There’s also no process for cruise lines to verify medical information with the NHS and other health suppliers.

The same goes for proving you are exempt from the vaccine. GPs and the NHS do not have the time to provide proof, especially to go on a holiday when the NHS is experiencing its busiest period in history.

Is it ethical?

We feel uncomfortable that people are being coerced into taking the vaccine to be able to cruise. We don’t believe that it is ethical for companies to request private medical information about customers and discriminate against those who don’t follow a prescribed path. It sets a dangerous precedent. 

Just to make it clear again we are 100% pro vaccine but we feel uncomfortable that Saga are using a voluntary medical procedure as a form of policy. Everyone has the right to refuse the vaccine, it’s not for anyone else to judge or condemn them, it’s freedom of choice. The same thing that has been fought for, for centuries! Are flu vaccines going to be required next? TB, Measles…where does it stop?

Saga is a business and as far as we know has every right to do this but it still doesn’t feel right. Some people on Twitter are suggesting it’s against the law and several human rights conventions, we think this might be a stretch. Everyone also has the right to sail with another company but that’s not the point we are trying to get at.

Is it discriminatory?

Saga’s customer base (the over 50s) will be the first to be vaccinated, they are using this to their advantage.

If the policy of mandatory vaccinations is used by other cruise lines, people under 50 may not receive their vaccination for months or even years. Younger people are at bottom of the vaccine priority list. So through no fault of their own, they will be unable to sail. This is discrimination.

If other lines follow it will be somewhat ironic that the younger demographic cruise lines have been desperately trying to attract is the very group of people who they will refuse to allow on board.

Sadly now that Saga has reversed their policy on allowing medical exceptions, they are directly discriminating against pregnant women and those with allergies – which is direct disability discrimination.

One of our followers compared this to the Yellow Fever vaccination, saying no vaccine, no cruise. Well, it’s not as simple as that. The Yellow Fever vaccination is openly available right now to anyone who needs it, regardless of age or location. If you are unable to have the vaccination due to a health condition you will be given an exemption certificate and still allowed to travel. Finally, how would you feel if all the passengers were given a Yellow Fever vaccination but not the crew…see where we are going with this?

As a global community we have come together over the last year to protect our elderly and at risk individuals by putting our lives on hold, not leaving our houses, not seeing friends or family and many even losing jobs.

We are now at the bottom of the queue to be vaccinated, and we are fine with this – we will patiently wait for our turn as others need it more than us. It feels somewhat unjust that the same community will be the first ones able to sail whilst everyone else is refused and told to wait. It feels like a kick in the teeth and we feel uncomfortable that Saga is taking advantage of this. 

Even the head of the world travel and tourism council has said it is discriminatory to require vaccinations.

Will more cruise lines follow suit?

The big question is will more cruise lines follow suit and require a vaccine? We were sure this would happen but now with the resistance from customers on Twitter, we are unsure.

No other major cruise line has an age restriction in place so requiring a vaccine would drastically reduce the number of customers who could sail.

Now the question is will this stop us from cruising. No it wont, we will wait patiently until we have been vaccinated if that is what it requires. We are just sad to see it happen like this. We are huge fans of Saga, even being below their targeted demographics we really enjoyed our time on the wonderful Spirit of Discovery – the product they offer is really fantastic and very unique to anything else we have experienced.

We would love to know what you think about this situation, what do you think is the way forward?

Ben Hewitt
I am a keen video producer and photographer. Before starting Cruise with Ben and David I worked for the BBC and Discovery Channel.