COVID Info for Volunteers

The safety of our patients and crew is our highest priority. Below are answers to some commonly asked questions concerning our COVID-19 safety measures.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine required for volunteers serving on board?

A primary course of the COVID-19 vaccination is required when Mercy Ships vessels are in active field service or for patient-facing off-ship crew (e.g., patient selection teams). COVID vaccination is not required for crew on vessels out of field service or for non-patient-facing off-ship crew. 

Providing our patients with a COVID-free environment is essential. Because our patients are at significantly increased risk of dying if they get COVID, we believe our guidelines are the best approach to maintain the safety of our patients and crew.  

Do I need a COVID-19 booster to serve on board?

We strongly recommend* but do not require the COVID-19 booster for volunteers serving on board our vessels*Medical Reviewers reserve the right to request incoming crew to get a vaccination or a booster when the crewmember falls into the high-priority group (i.e., frontline health workers or high-risk individuals.). 

Will I have to wear a facemask?

The wearing of (K)N95 masks is required throughout the hospitals on our vessels during active field service. Crew do not have to wear facemasks unless inside the hospital or when patient-facing. N95 masks are always provided and required in the hospital.

Surgical or cloth masks are not accepted. 

Can I get off the ship for fun?

Shore leave is unrestricted, but this could change should COVID cases surge. We recommend wearing masks when on crowded public transport or in private taxis.

How much interaction is there with the local population?

  • Day Crew – Mercy Ships typically employs roughly 200 local professionals to come alongside us while in field service, doing many different things – translation, cooking, transportation – you name it. We couldn’t do what we do without these dedicated “Day Crew”. The Day Crew will be performing their typical key functions and will be managed by each team as usual. There will be intermittent COVID-19 testing for our Day Crew. Any Day Crew that may contract COVID-19 will be quarantined in their homes until a negative COVID-19 test can be presented. Any crew found in subsequent contact tracing will also be informed and tested.
  • Patient visitations – Access to the hospital wards and our HOPE Center is likely to be restricted to official business in these areas but will be adjusted based on the changing COVID-19 situation and the level of crew vaccination.

Is Mercy Ships testing to monitor COVID-19 cases on board?

Crew will no longer be required to test asymptomatically, except on embarkation and during an outbreak. Patients will still receive asymptomatic testing.

Any testing needed for crew before arrival is the responsibility of the crew member.

What happens if I get COVID while on board, and where would I be treated?

Any COVID-positive crew will be placed in a designated quarantine cabin for a minimum of five days and will be monitored by our crew clinic team. Mercy Ships will safely supply meals and other accommodations as needed. If someone develops an infection requiring hospitalization, we plan to treat our crew unless their condition requires care that would be better served in a local institution. We are confident in the capacity and level of care of the facilities in Spain and Senegal should they be needed.

Those identified as close contacts to the COVID-positive crew be tested, but will not be isolated, except families.

What COVID-related expenses does Mercy Ships cover for volunteers?

Mercy Ships covers:

  • Quarantine expenses
  • Any testing expenses incurred once on board

Mercy Ships does not cover:

  • Post-service quarantine expenses*
  • Vaccination expenses

I have had COVID previously and have natural immunity. Do I still need to be vaccinated/boosted per this policy?

Prior infection is not considered equivalent to a vaccine or booster dose. 

Does the Evacuation and Repatriation (E&R) insurance provided by Mercy Ships cover me if I am sick with COVID?

All crew are automatically enrolled in an evacuation and repatriation insurance policy through Talent Trust. Coverage for evacuation or repatriation due to COVID is included and covered in this policy. However, medical E&R is still subject to the governing travel regulations for any given country – meaning a COVID-positive patient can only be evacuated to a country that allows entry to COVID-positive travelers.

Vaccines have risk, too.

Yes, vaccines have a very small risk of side effects, which are widely publicized. That risk is far lower for vaccines than for getting COVID. For example, the most serious side effects from the vaccine are at least eleven times higher from getting COVID than they are from the vaccine.

Any side effects will be handled in the same way we handle all medical issues among the crew, primarily through the crew clinic. On the off chance that such a side effect happens, we will treat crew through the usual pathways for crew treatment, through the crew clinic. The risk of serious, life-threatening, medevac-requiring side effects is vanishingly rare, and will be handled with medevac as other life-threatening crew issues are. For more information on medical evacuation, please see the Volunteer Guidebook.

Why are the Mercy Ships COVID-19 requirements different than in my home country?

The countries we partner with often have fragile healthcare systems where there is often less preparedness for shocks – such as pandemics – and much less access to emergent and ongoing healthcare support than in higher resource settings.

Are patients required to be vaccinated before receiving treatment?

We take a strong stance that patients receive their surgeries for free. We do not require patients to pay for their care or to meet any other requirements to receive their surgeries. Vaccination falls squarely into this. We ask our patients about and offer vaccinations, but we do not require them to receive our help.

Can Mercy Ships supply an alternative for me if I don’t want to take another injection, like an option to test every day, etc.?

There will be no alternative measures at this time. As always, we will review this regularly.

Can I request an exception?

Exemption requests can be submitted by email to [email protected]. High priority group personnel are less likely to get exempted. Please note: Volunteers with contraindications to vaccination(s) due to underlying medical conditions should note that those conditions may disqualify a volunteer from service. 

How often does Mercy Ships review COVID protocols to keep crew and patients safe?

Mercy Ships leadership reviews the protocols, regulations, and guidelines every day. We stay on top of any changes – be it infection rates, international travel issues, guidance from WHO and other trusted organizations, and closer to “home” – monitoring crew life on board! We weigh each decision and change carefully. Our commitment to keeping our crew and patients safe and healthy is the driving force of all decisions.

Where can I read more about the specific protocols Mercy Ships has developed to protect crew and patients from COVID-19?

After volunteers have received their official offer letters to join, they will be granted access to Navigator, our organizational intranet. Detailed policies, protocols, guidelines, and other information can be found there. Additionally, all volunteers must sign a COVID Acknowledgment Form to confirm they understand the protocols, regulations, testing requirements, and risks associated with volunteering during this season.

If you have further questions after reviewing this FAQ about these COVID regulations, please send an email to [email protected].