Since July 5, all eligible air travellers who are fully vaccinated are exempt from the mandatory 14-day quarantine — but only if Health Canada authorized the vaccine that the traveller used.
Li, who went home to see family in Nanjing back in April, got one dose of the Sinovac vaccine and another of the Sinopharm shot one month apart.
“When I left Canada, the vaccine wasn’t readily available for people of my age yet in Toronto, so I decided it’s my best chance to get a vaccine in China,” the 30-year-old told Global News.
But now, Li, who is a food industry analyst and often travels to the United States for work, finds herself in a bit of a conundrum as she will still need to quarantine every time she returns to Canada.
“Obviously it’s going to cause a lot of inconvenience.”
So far, the federal government has approved four COVID-19 vaccines for use: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
Two other vaccines from Medicago and Novavax are currently under review by Health Canada.
No applications for China’s vaccines have been submitted to the regulator yet. But the shots have been given the green light by the World Health Organization (WHO) and are being doled out in several Asian and Latin American countries.
“I think as long as the vaccine is approved by WHO, then the Canadian government should recognize it as well,” said Li.
Freya Ma is in a similar boat. The 23-year-old Chinese national was fully vaccinated in Shanghai in April before flying back to Toronto, where she resides.
Ma says even though she feels safe after getting her two doses, Canada’s border restrictions are an “inconvenience.”
“But for now, I am just really being optimistic … and hoping … the government will … welcome … more types of vaccine.”
Canadians who have received both doses of the vaccine will no longer have to wear masks or physically distance when outside with small groups of people from multiple households — even if those people are unvaccinated. However, they’ll need to wait 14 days after their second shot to be considered fully protected.
Under the PHAC guidelines, fully vaccinated people in Canada can hug, go camping with friends, have small family barbecues, play close contact sports and attend outdoor weddings as well as outdoor birthday parties.
Because the same rules do not apply to them, both Li and Ma are left wondering if they would need to get vaccinated again with one of the shots authorized by Canada.
“I’m thinking if it will never be recognized, I might have to get some vaccine that’s approved here, just because I have to go back to normal life,” said Li.
In the Middle East, both Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) have offered the Pfizer vaccine as a booster shot to those who have been fully vaccinated with Sinopharm.
Alberto Martin, a professor of immunology at the University of Toronto, says from a health standpoint, there should be no concern in doing so.
“I don’t see any reason why there will be any issues with those people that have been immunized with the Chinese vaccine and just getting re-immunized here in Canada with Pfizer or AstraZeneca,” he told Global News.
“From a medical perspective, I don’t see it hurting. It can only help.”
The differential treatment at Canada’s border is also affecting vaccinated people who want to see family in Canada.
Graciela D’Andrea, 65, got her first dose of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine back in April and is awaiting the second dose. Her husband has been fully vaccinated with AstraZeneca.
The Argentine couple was hoping to visit their son and daughter-in-law in Toronto, who they haven’t seen in over a year and a half. But D’Andrea says the two-week quarantine is an impediment.
“My husband can enter without it because he got AstraZeneca.”
D’Andrea is hoping all countries start easing restrictions for vaccinated travellers.
“The most important thing is that we’re vaccinated against the coronavirus. It shouldn’t matter what the brand of the vaccine is.”
Freedom of movement
The WHO said last week that any COVID-19 vaccines it has authorized for emergency use should be recognized by countries as they open up their borders to inoculated travellers.
“Any measure that only allows people protected by a subset of WHO-approved vaccines to benefit from the re-opening of travel … would effectively create a two-tier system, further widening the global vaccine divide and exacerbating the inequities we have already seen in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines,” the global health body said in a July 1 statement.
In the United States, people who have received two doses of the mRNA vaccines — Pfizer and Moderna — and the single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the inoculations. However, air passengers entering the U.S. are not required to quarantine, regardless of their vaccination status.
In Europe, France is accepting tourists who were inoculated with the four EU-approved vaccines — Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson.
But Spain is also allowing recipients of the two Chinese vaccines authorized by the WHO — as long as visitors are fully vaccinated at least two weeks before the trip.
Kerry Bowman, a professor of bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto, said Canada’s new policy excludes millions of people who have received the Sputnik V vaccine or one of China’s two vaccines.
Bowman pointed out that the AstraZeneca vaccine has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yet, so if that country followed Canada’s lead, then it would limit the freedom of movement for millions of Canadians.
According to Bowman, there should be an international standard set by the WHO for all the vaccines it has approved.
“We need international standards, not national. Otherwise, we’ve got problems with fairness and freedom of movement.”
— with files from Global News’ Eric Stober, Elizabeth Palmieri and The Association Press.