Lake Carriers’ Association to recognize Chippewa County Health Department

Beginning on April 6, a COVID-19 vaccination program called “Shots on Ships” began in Sault Ste. Marie for U.S. Great Lakes sailors.
A CCHD employee named Jill climbs aboard a vessel for the "Shots on Ships" program.
A CCHD employee named Jill climbs aboard a vessel for the "Shots on Ships" program.(Courtesy Scott Laursen)
Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 1:09 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND (WLUC) - The U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet began the process of readying their vessels for the shipping season on March 24, 2021 amid a global pandemic.

COVID-19 cases were still surging, but the promise of a safer year sparkled with increases in vaccine availability.

Unfortunately, many Great Lakes sailors did not have an opportunity to receive the vaccine in their home state before they needed to report for their essential work.

Enter the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Chippewa County Health Department (CCHD) in Sault Ste Marie.

Many U.S. vessels pass through the Soo Locks on an average day as they transport vital raw materials, like iron ore, from ports on Lake Superior to the lower lakes where facilities produce the steel that keeps America’s economy humming. This centralized location made perfect sense for a mass vaccination site for mariners.

After an amazingly short discussion, USACE and CCHD agreed to a Lake Carriers’ Association (LCA) plea for help.

Beginning on April 6, USACE and CCHD began the process of executing a COVID-19 vaccination program called “Shots on Ships (SOS)” for U.S. Great Lakes sailors.

The process took a great deal of coordination. As vessels approached the locks on their normal route, USACE lockmasters in the Soo provided a location to briefly secure the vessel to a dock and to notify CCHD personnel of awaiting vaccine volunteers.

Nurses from CCHD would pack up their coolers and needles, climb 25-foot ladders to board the vessel, and administer the life protecting vaccine.

“We are thankful beyond words for the efforts of CCHD and USACE. Without the SOS Program many U.S. Great Lakes sailors would not have had an opportunity to be immunized against the COVID-19 virus. Protecting our sailors and the ports they visit remains a top priority. We remain forever in debt to the men and women of the health department and the Soo Locks Army Corps,” stated Jim Weakley, President of the Lake Carriers’ Association.

To date, more than 300 vaccines on 25 different vessels have been administered through the SOS Program.

On Friday, June 25, 2021 at 10:00 a.m., LCA will present CCHD with a token of appreciation at the Soo Locks Visitors Center. A token to memorialize a historic event of kindness and compassion.

About Lake Carriers’ Association: Since 1880, Lake Carriers’ has represented the U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet, which today can move more than 90 million tons of cargos annually that are the foundation of American industry, infrastructure, and energy: iron ore, stone, coal, cement, and other dry bulk materials such as grain, salt, and sand.

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