Will Kids Under 12 Require Vaccines to Sail on Cruise Ships?

As cruises return to sailing, they’ve done so with the COVID-19 vaccine as a cornerstone of health and safety.

In fact, major cruise lines require passengers 12 years and older (who have been eligible for the shot for months) to be vaccinated to sail. Where the lines differ is how they handle non-vaccinated passengers.

Some cruise lines do allow unvaccinated children ineligible for the shot to still sail. Others, like Norwegian Cruise Line, have a strict 100% vaccination policy. No matter the age, kids can’t sail unless they have received the shot.

But in recent days a new group of children — those aged 5-11 — were approved for the COVID-19 vaccine. This means for many lines kids who had previously been allowed to sail without the shot are now eligible to be vaccinated.

So will cruise lines require the shot of younger children in order to sail? We expect official word from the cruise lines soon, but in our opinion, it’s likely any child of an eligible age for the vaccine will soon need it to get on the ship.

The Success of Vaccines in Cruising

At this point, passengers have returned to sailing in considerable numbers. For example, Royal Caribbean Group says they anticipate sailing with a million passengers by the end of the year. And Carnival has half of its fleet back sailing.

While cruising still has further to go until it’s back to normal, hundreds of thousands of passengers and crew have set sail again. And despite returning right as the Delta variant swept through the United States, the number of cases found on ships appears relatively contained.

According to the CDC, there were 1,359 positive cases on ships under its watch between June 26, 2021 (the day the first cruise ship returned to U.S. sailing) and October 21. That comes out to about 12 cases per day, across all cruise ships. For reference, the CDC currently tracks more than 80 vessels.

Of course, both the CDC and cruise lines give plenty of credit to vaccines. Executives have referred to the shots as a “game-changer” that have allowed trips to sail again.

And with the opening of doses for younger kids, there are signs that they will need the shot too in order to sail.

What Cruise Companies Have Said So Far

When asked specifically about vaccines for younger kids during an investor call, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio didn’t mince words. Currently, all passengers are required to have the shot on the company’s ships, no matter their age. That shows no signs of easing.

“We’re going to announce very, very soon that we have indefinitely extended our 100% vaccination requirement,” Del Rio said.

“We’re not going to sacrifice the health and safety of anyone for the sake of adding a point or two or three — or whatever the number is — to load. So we will continue mandating 100% vaccination, as long as the science dictates that’s what we ought to do.”

“We’re not going to sacrifice the health and safety of anyone for the sake of adding a point or two or three — or whatever the number is — to load. So we will continue mandating 100% vaccination, as long as the science dictates that’s what we ought to do.”

-Norwegian Cruise Line Holding CEO, Frank Del Rio

Carnival Cruise Lines — a popular family-focused cruise line — has allowed a small number of children ineligible for the vaccine to sail with an exemption. With the approval of vaccines for younger kids, the wording on its website seems to hint toward requiring the shot in the near future:

“The vaccine exemption process for sailings in 2022 is currently not open. We are optimistic that vaccines will be approved and available for children between 5 and 11 years of age before the end of the year enabling us to welcome more of our families with young children back on board!”

Source: Carnival.com

As for other lines like MSC and Royal Caribbean, they currently require the shot of passengers aged 12 years and up. There seems to be little reason to think that a 12-year-old would be required to have the vaccine but an 11-year-old — who is now also eligible for the vaccine — could sail without.

One other thing to keep in mind is that it’s not just the cruise line’s decision. Ports of call also have a say in the matter. For instance, The Bahamas announced a requirement starting in September 2021 that cruise ship passengers 12 and older must be vaccinated to visit the country.

Should this age requirement be lowered in light of new availability for younger kids, then cruise lines would have no choice but to require the shot.

How We Think Parents Should Plan

To be sure, given that the first vaccine was just recently approved, we’d expect more definitive word on policies from all cruise lines in the coming days. And there will likely be some delay before the shot is required in order to allow plenty of time for passengers to receive two doses.

But if you are a parent of younger kids planning a cruise, it seems likely to us that they will need the shot.

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