Canadians seeking COVID-19 vaccines in US should be essential travellers: congressman

Click to play video: 'Biden wants Canada-U.S. border open, says congressman'
Biden wants Canada-U.S. border open, says congressman
WATCH ABOVE: U.S. congressman and co-chair of the Northern Border Caucus Brian Higgins joins ‘The West Block’ host Mercedes Stephenson to talk about calls to reopen the Canada-U.S. border – Jun 13, 2021

Canadians who want a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States should be allowed to cross the border as essential travellers in order to get the shot, says a U.S. congressman.

“I think that we should open up the U.S. border to Canadians who want vaccines and can’t get them in Canada,” said New York Democrat Brian Higgins in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday.

“We have surplus vaccines here in the United States, here in western New York that are not being used. And if they’re not being used, they get discarded as medical waste. Why shouldn’t a Canadian come over to our community and get vaccinated?”

“Somebody seeking a vaccine should be allowed to come over and they should be deemed an essential traveler,” Higgins added.

His comments come as frustration mounts among Canadian mayors whose communities lie along the border with the U.S., and who say they are being stymied by red tape from Canadian health officials when they try to take up offers from American counterparts to share vaccines.

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They also come amid calls on the Canadian government from tourism industry stakeholders to provide more clarity on when the border will reopen and what rules will be in place for fully vaccinated travellers.

READ MORE: Vaccines ‘being thrown out’ in U.S. should go to Canadians, mayors say

Mayors from the Ontario cities of Windsor and Niagara Falls told the House of Commons health committee last week that coveted doses of the lifesaving vaccines are being thrown out just a few kilometres across the border every day. They said there’s no reason the cities should be barred from accepting offers from pharmacists and local officials to share the doses with Canadians.

“We have 35,000 doses that hit the trash two kilometers away from where I’m sitting at the very moment,” Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said to the committee on Monday.

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati told Global News he’s also been forced to turn down offers.

“Our American counterparts are asking us, ‘We’ve got these extra vaccines. Are you interested in them before we throw them in the landfill?’ We’d rather put them into an arm than a landfill,” he said.

“And we’ve got arms here that would be willing hosts for these vaccines.”

READ MORE: U.S. offers COVID-19 vaccine to some B.C. border residents

David Musyj, president and CEO at Windsor Regional Hospital, told Global News the owners of the Ambassador Bridge running between Windsor and Detroit sent a proposal to the federal and Ontario government proposing setting up a vaccination centre at the end of the U.S. section of the bridge.

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The idea, he said, was that Canadians could drive across, receive their vaccine without leaving their vehicle, and drive right back across the bridge, or meet at a site in the border tunnel between the two cities where an American nurse could give them the shot across the border boundary.

But the Public Health Agency of Canada has rejected such offers, according to a letter obtained by Global News that said having a nurse reach across the border to give the shot would constitute “importation of product,” which isn’t allowed.

“With respect to the set up of the proposed clinic, please be aware that vaccine cannot be imported into Canadian space without the express consent of Health Canada. It is our understanding that actual vaccination, in other words, administration of the vaccine into a patient’s arm, will occur on the U.S. side of the border,” stated the letter.

“However, if the U.S. nurse or pharmacist reaches across the border to administer it to a person in Canada, that is considered importation of product and requires an expression of no objection from Health Canada.”

Click to play video: 'Biden says 52% of adults fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in U.S.'
Biden says 52% of adults fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in U.S.

Nearly half of Americans have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, and the country faced criticism over its ban on exporting vaccines to other countries. Canada’s early supplies of the vaccines came from factories in Europe, but are now starting to arrive from the U.S. facilities of Pfizer and Moderna amid a significant jump in supply.

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READ MORE: ‘Sad and disappointed’: COVID-19 vaccination clinics at Alberta-US border cancelled

Roughly 70 per cent of eligible Canadians have now received at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

But the rate of second-dose vaccination remains low at just over nine per cent, as of Friday.

Higgins said the widening availability of vaccines highlights the need for Canadian and U.S. officials to commit to a “better vision” on how to reopen the border, focusing first on fully vaccinated people.

“I think that if you allow people that have been vaccinated to cross the border, that would be an incentive for people that may be skeptical of vaccines or are afraid of needles,” he said.

‘There should be some recognition of those who have been fully vaccinated to be able to reunite with loved ones, to be able to visit their properties and to be able to transact business toward the goal of a larger opening of the U.S.-Canadian border.”

With files from Global’s Rachel Gilmore.

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