OTTAWA – Convincing questionable countries to allow Canadians with mixed vaccines across their borders can be tricky, but Canada has a responsibility to try, according to a director of the Association of Travel Agencies of Canada (ACTA).
The federal government is expected to release more details on a standardized vaccine passport for Canadians in the coming weeks, but even with that in hand, some Canadians will be turned away at certain borders or mandated to self-quarantine.
Several countries, including the United States, only recognize people who have received two identical doses of an approved vaccine as fully immunized. Additionally, Oxford-AstraZeneca is not on the approved vaccine list in many places.
There are at least 3.88 million fully vaccinated Canadians who have received two different types of vaccines, not including those in Quebec where data on mixed vaccines is not available.
Of these, about 1.5 million Canadians received a first dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca or Covishield, which uses the same formula.
“The problem we have here in Canada is that we are one of the few places that has really done this in a meaningful way, and Canada is a small travel market compared to the rest of the world,” said Richard Vanderlubbe, director. of ACTA and president of tripcentral.ca.
Canada was initially something of an aberration last summer when it allowed people to mix and match vaccine doses, and research on the immune response to this approach has been positive.
Those who followed public health instructions and got the first dose available to them are likely to become frustrated with not being able to travel once mandatory vaccination rules are passed around the world, Vanderlubbe warned.
“I’m sure the frustration will increase, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada presented data on the effectiveness of mixed doses in the United States and other priority destinations.
“I think there is a great obligation to do this,” Vanderlubbe said.
Canada has been particularly active in disseminating information on the effectiveness of mixing AstraZeneca with mRNA vaccines like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, said Dr. Theresa Tam, director of public health for Canada.
“They haven’t used the AstraZeneca vaccine in the US and certainly not a mixed-dose schedule. As a result, they do not have nationally generated information on this front, ”Tam said at a press briefing on September 24.
New rules in the United States would see only travelers fully vaccinated to the US standard allowed to fly across the border. This could leave vaccinated Canadians who have already been cleared to travel to the United States with only a negative COVID-19 test unable to travel as early as November.
The land border is expected to remain closed until at least October 21.
Canada still advises against non-essential travel outside the country, but even so, the government hopes other countries will recognize the immunization status of Canadians who have received two doses of a nationally approved vaccine.
Some popular European destinations already recognize mixed doses because they have followed a similar approach to Canada, Tam said.
“We should always inform travelers that they need to check in with the specific country requirements before traveling as the landscape is a bit varied, but we are doing everything possible to facilitate this recognition,” she said.
Travelers to Canada who meet vaccine requirements are exempt from mandatory quarantine upon arrival, but only if the vaccine has already been approved by Health Canada.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 4, 2021.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press