Travel headaches loom if countries don’t agree on COVID vaccines: Experts

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The push to mix and match COVID-19 vaccine brands could have short-term implications for Canadian jet-setters, a reality that requires urgent political attention and international co-operation, experts say.

The revelation this week that several New York shows would not recognize Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccinations for audience members because it’s not approved in the U.S. shows it’s time for countries to get on the same page about vaccine passports or accepted vaccine credentials, one researcher says.

“It’s pretty typical that everyone gets caught up in their own context. We’re used to the conversation going on in Canada and how we perceive the rollout and mixed vaccines. . . . We don’t necessarily look at it globally,” said Benjamin Muller, an associate professor at King’s University College who teaches international political sociology.

“The public discussion should have begun earlier. Governments maybe should have involved people earlier, thought ahead about the big picture.”


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Earlier this week, Springsteen on Broadway, Saturday Night Live and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert announced it would require audience members to be fully vaccinated with a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccine, which AstraZeneca is not.

The theatre behind the Springsteen production announced Saturday it would recognize any people fully vaccinated with shots approved by the FDA or World Health Organization, but other shows have not yet followed suit.

Muller expects it’s a short-term setback as officials begin to turn their minds to reopening and a return to international travel.

“Many, many other countries around the world are heavily using (AstraZeneca). I find it hard to believe that is going to be an unacceptable form (of vaccine),” he said. “There’s a blip that we’re seeing here, with the lack of coherent strategy at a broader level.”


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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who himself received a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, said Friday Ottawa is working with the U.S. and others so Canadians who received the shot won’t face hurdles when travelling internationally. Trudeau said he hopes to be able to resolve the issues in the coming weeks as travel restrictions are loosened.

Canada has extended intervals between shots, welcomed AstraZeneca with open arms and green lighted mixing and matching of vaccine brands, a strategy that differs from other countries, including the U.S.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit is urging the public to get comfortable mixing and matching vaccines, as a massive influx of Moderna shots in coming weeks means many Pfizer or AstraZeneca recipients looking to fast-track second shots should expect a Moderna dose.


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Canada’s national immunization advisory panel now recommends adults who got a first dose of AstraZeneca get a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.

To maximize the number of people getting first doses, Ontario extended the interval between shots to four months — up from three weeks for Pfizer and four for Moderna — but now is letting people rebook second shots earlier.

Canada isn’t alone charting its own vaccination path, said Christopher Labos, a Montreal-based cardiologist and epidemiologist who has followed Canada’s vaccine rollout closely.

International co-operation will be critical to ensuring Canadians’ vaccine bona fides — which may include a mixed schedule on an extended timeline — are recognized by other countries and institutions when international travel ramps up, Labos said.


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“Every country has had a slightly different vaccine rollout. . . . We’re going to have to come up with some sort of international arrangement where we acknowledge what other countries did, as long as it’s sound,” he said.

“If one country doesn’t recognize the vaccination process of another country, we’re going to have an issue especially when we get back to international travel. Clearly this is going to have to get worked out.”

Labos said there’s plenty of talk about travellers entering Canada, and shortening quarantines for fully vaccinated people, but there hasn’t been enough focus on getting countries to recognize each other’s vaccine programs.

“We haven’t really established a system and it doesn’t seem as if there is any political will to establish some sort of formal vaccine passport,” he said.


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Many countries use China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines or Russia’s Sputnik shots. Novavax, which is awaiting Health Canada approval, recently released some promising results and may play a major role in other countries’ vaccine campaigns, Labos said.

The variety of vaccines and different national delivery decisions have made the situation more complicated than if every nation gave the same vaccines the same way, said Joe Pavelka, an eco-tourism professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University.

Getting a group of countries to agree on the ever-evolving information about COVID-19 vaccines and the acceptable way to administer them may not be easy, he said.

“There’s limited consensus on which vaccine is the best, which ones should or shouldn’t be allowed. Are two doses enough? Once you have two doses, what are you allowed to do?” he said.

“In the absence of really strong consensus, you have leaders who are forced to make a decision.”

– with files from the Canadian Press

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