How Important a Vaccine Could Be for Cruises in 2021

With coronavirus vaccine distribution underway and new vaccines still in development, many cruise travelers are eager to set sail once again. But an important question needs to be considered: Will a COVID-19 vaccine be required for passengers to take a cruise? The answer is more than yes or no.

How Vaccines Work

Vaccines have been a proven medical practice for more than 200 years and are currently used for dozens of dangerous diseases around the world, including hepatitis, tuberculosis, and smallpox.

A vaccine introduces a weaker strain of a disease into the body. This stimulates the body’s immune response and antibody production that can fend off the full-strength virus, keeping the vaccine recipient from developing the harshest disease symptoms. You can check the benefits from the CDC on getting a COVID-19 Vaccine.

While this protection can help keep a person healthier, most vaccines do not completely eliminate a disease and it can still be possible to get sick even when vaccinated.

A vaccinated individual, however, already has some natural protection and will not usually have as severe a response to the full disease, making it less dangerous.

When vaccines are present in a population, viruses have more difficulty spreading because they cannot replicate as well in vaccinated bodies and therefore are less likely to spread to additional people.

This does not mean, however, that viruses cannot spread or infect other people who may not be vaccinated. In severe outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics, additional measures are often necessary, along with a vaccine, to control the disease and keep the population safe.

Vaccines on Cruises

While COVID-19 is a highly transmissible and potentially deadly disease, the development of vaccines is very encouraging that the pandemic may soon be under control.

Cruise lines are working diligently to update health and safety protocols for both crew members and passengers, in order to set sail again as soon as it is safe to do so.

Cruise Ships in Barcelona
Photo Credit: stockyardph /

This includes working with multiple ports, not only where ships are homeported and will take on new passengers, but also with all the different countries a ship may visit during a typical cruise itinerary.

Worth Reading: What Cruise Lines Need To Get Right in 2021

Different countries have their own protocols and requirements for visitors, and cruise lines must coordinate with many different agencies to ensure a safe voyage that meets all local restrictions and guidelines.

One such guideline may be requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for visitors, including cruise travelers. If this is the case in one port of call, a cruise line will need to decide whether to remove that port from its itineraries or to require all passengers to provide proof of vaccination before setting sail.

Concerned passengers may be questioning whether or not it could be legal for a cruise line to require a medical procedure – in this case, vaccination – in order to provide service to passengers.

There are subtleties to public health laws and patient privacy in different countries. In general, yes, it is legal for a cruise line – as a private business – to require a vaccine in order to protect other passengers and crew members from a disease with a proven history of devastating impact. That does not mean, however, that the legality cannot be challenged, but such challenges could face difficulty in court.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Health questionnaires have long been standard practice for cruise passengers, especially when traveling to or from sensitive areas, and passengers who may exhibit symptoms of contagious diseases may be denied boarding.

The same may become true of vaccinations, and passengers could be required to present proof of COVID-19 vaccination to be eligible to travel.

This is not unprecedented. Yellow fever vaccinations are already required when traveling to certain areas, even on cruise ships, depending on where the ship may be visiting and how long it will be in port.

Other vaccinations are often recommended for travel, including measles, polio, cholera, and typhoid vaccinations, depending on the destination. Individual doctors may also recommend additional vaccinations to patients depending on their specific health histories and vulnerabilities.

Vaccinating the Crew

When it comes to requiring vaccinations for the crew, a cruise line has more authority and could enforce such a requirement. A cruise line could also make the vaccine a strong recommendation, and offer different incentives – a paycheck bonus, for example – for crew members who do get vaccinated.

Cruising Without a Vaccine

All eyes are on cruise lines and the “test cruises” as operations slowly restart, with passengers interested in what restrictions, safety measures, and health protocols may be in place on board and could impact the sailing experience.

Without COVID-19 vaccine requirements, and until such vaccinations are widespread, it is likely that cruise ships will be enforcing stricter standards and taking great care to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Cruise Ship Illness with Mask
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Depending on the cruise line, this will likely include onboard mask requirements, regular temperature checks, contact tracing, limited capacities, reservations-only activities, and other restrictions to maximize social distancing and minimize any contagion risk.

Cruising With a Vaccine

A cruise line that does have vaccination requirements, however, may have somewhat more relaxed requirements as they welcome passengers onboard, and cruises could even restart more quickly.

While travelers would have to provide proper proof of their vaccination, onboard restrictions may be less and the cruise experience could more closely resemble pre-pandemic operations.

It is important to note, however, that even if a cruise line does require vaccinations, additional onboard safety measures are still likely to be in place for several months after sailings resume.

Diamond Princess Cruise Ship
Photo Credit: vladeva /

This will be a necessary precaution until the efficacy and duration of vaccine protection is established, and cruise ships have once again proven the safety of sailing.

In time, however, more restrictions may be relaxed and onboard health and safety measures could become less intrusive.

Travelers Have Choices

Ultimately, travelers have choices – both about getting a COVID-19 vaccine as well as whether or not they choose to cruise. Just like other rules and restrictions – a passenger with a conceal-and-carry permit and proper gun safety training, for example, is still forbidden from bringing a weapon onboard a cruise ship – travelers will have to follow the requirements cruise lines set.

At the same time, prospective cruisers can make their travel plans with any line they like, choosing a cruise line that does or does not require COVID-19 vaccinations as they prefer.

In time, lines will adjust their policies not only to abide by health priorities and requirements, but also to balance their business interests to attract both new and repeat passengers.

Would you get a COVID-19 vaccine if it was required to take a cruise, or would you make other travel plans?

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Melissa Mayntz
Melissa Mayntz
Avid, enthusiastic cruiser (35 cruises and counting!), having sailed on multiple cruise lines, 20+ different ships in a variety of classes, and visited ports of call in more than 6 countries, including Caribbean, Mexican, Alaskan, and Hawaiian ports. Widely traveled on multiple continents, as well as a professional freelance writer and editor with more than 20 years' experience and thousands of articles published. Find out more about us here.


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