HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- The last year has taught us to appreciate frontline workers like health care heroes, grocery store cashiers and cleaning crews on a new level, but longshoremen is a group in that category that many of us may not have thought of.
The thousands of workers, made up of mostly men, are stationed in the 150 ports along the coast from North Carolina down to south Texas. The Houston-Galveston ports run like their own little city.
The work can be exhausting, yet it's essential to keeping the economy open, as 95% of overseas trade flows in and out of those harbors.
"If we stop, then the economy literally comes to a halt," said Alan Robb, the president of the International Longshoremen's Association. He represents all 65,000 union workers.
From crane operators to shuttle drivers to lashers, longshoremen take the tops of the massive shipping containers and often work in close contact, sweating and lifting. It's nearly impossible to stay socially distant, so if COVID-19 breaks out on the docks, it can be deadly.
"We've had a tough go," Robb said. "In the last five or six weeks, we've had some fatalities."
He said 27 longshoremen have died from a COVID-related illness since the pandemic started. Despite strict safety measures, like mask-wearing and temperature checks, there's a constant fear of getting sick for a lot of men.
Robb said these workers deserve a chance at getting the vaccine immediately, and a lot of them still hadn't qualified until now.
Five hundred Harris County longshoremen and their families are scheduled to get the vaccine Tuesday. Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia organized the event as many longshoremen live in his district.
"We need to keep them strong. We need to keep them healthy. We need to keep the port moving," Garcia told ABC13.
Garcia has put together similar events, bringing shots directly into communities where people have struggled to get on a vaccine list.
"Our longshoremen are vulnerable to making sure the economy doesn't become much more weakened, so we need to make sure they're part of the equation," Garcia said.
He also said the only way to end this pandemic is to improve the vaccination process, and that means recognizing certain frontline workers who may feel left behind.
The next vaccination pop-up event organized by Precinct 2 will be for plumbers and their families with another 500 shots scheduled to go into the arms of people who are still working around the clock, weeks after the historic winter storm last month.
For more information on future vaccine events, check the Twitter and Facebook pages for Precinct 2.