Ontario asks Feds to work with WHO on mixed vaccine travel

By Holly McKenzie-Sutter

TORONTO – Ontario has asked the federal government to ensure Canadians who received mixed COVID-19 vaccines will be recognized for international travel as border measures lift.

Health Minister Christine Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones wrote to Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and other officials on Sunday about the issue.

“We ask the Government of Canada to work with the WHO to update its guidance to international partners that mixing vaccines should be internationally accepted as a complete vaccine regimen,” they wrote.

Ontario and other provinces have offered residents the option of taking one shot each of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines oran mRNA shot after a first of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines. Provinces offered the mixed option this year as country grappled with a shifting incoming vaccine supply schedule and concerns over a rare but serious blood clot linked to the AstraZeneca shot.

The ministers wrote that it’s critical for “the integrity and confidence” in Canada’s and Ontario’s vaccination programs that people who “have done the right thing” by taking doses of two different vaccines are considered immunized abroad.

“As the federal government opens international travel, we believe these Ontarians should also be considered `fully immunized’ by other countries both at international borders and in their activities within those jurisdictions,” they said.

They argue that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Authority, should be seen as valid internationally “on any certificate or passport.” That shot listed for emergency use by the WHO.

The letter notes that some European Union countries are using a similar mixed-dose approach to vaccination and said Ontario is looking forward to the outcome of conversations with those countries and with the United States.

Concerns have been raised in recent weeks about potential barriers facing people who mixed their COVID-19 shots.

The U.S. has been reluctant to sanction the practice of following a Moderna shot with a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, or vice versa, while many European countries don’t recognize the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot made at the Serum Institute of India, which may impact Canadians who received it.

Several cruise lines have also said they won’t accept customers who have received different types of vaccine, or mixed brands at all.

In their Sunday letter, the Ontario ministers also raised the issue of border measures for international travellers as Canada plans to loosen some travel restrictions aimed at limiting COVID-19 spread.

Ottawa announced last week that fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents will be allowed into Canada without a 14-day quarantine as of Aug. 9. Eligible travellers in other parts of the world will be permitted to enter without quarantine on Sept. 7.

The rules apply to people who have received a full course of a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada.

Jones and Elliott wrote to Ottawa on “the importance of ensuring effective measures at the border for those who are not yet fully immunized,” and asked for “enforced and effective” quarantine rules for non-vaccinated travellers coming into the country.

They also asked for a consistent approach to international travel across land, air and water borders and at all points of entry.

The federal government did not provide a response to a request for comment on Monday.

Meanwhile, Ontario Premier Doug Ford repeated on Monday that he doesn’t believe in a vaccine certification system in Ontario

“It’s just not needed,” Ford said, speaking in Ottawa. “So we’re going to have people 80 per cent – hopefully – fully vaccinated and we just don’t need it.”

He said it’s up to the federal government whether to create a vaccine passport for international travel, and if it does, he’s “not going to balk at that.”

A group of experts advising the Ford government on the pandemic last week said a domestic proof-of-vaccination system would help speed up reopening and help prepare for a potential resurgence in cases — something Ontario’s top doctor has said will likely happen in the fall.

Ford also repeated Monday that he doesn’t support mandatory vaccinations of health workers, noting that they already have high vaccination rates.

Professional groups representing doctors and registered nurses in Ontario have publicly supported mandatory vaccination for health-care workers.

The provincial Liberals joined those calls on Monday, with their leader, Steven Del Duca, calling for mandatory shots for education and health workers and for provincial proof of vaccination.

Ford is “jeopardizing Ontario’s reopening by not planning ahead to prevent a fourth wave,” Del Duca said in a statement.

Ontario reported 119 COVID-19 cases on Monday and three deaths from the virus.

Eighty per cent of adults in Ontario have at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and 67 per cent are fully vaccinated.

– With files from Allison Jones