British Columbians looking to travel to the United States later this fall and into the winter may be able to access an additional COVID-19 dose if required by U.S. regulations.
B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says she is still optimistic that America will allow travellers who have mixed doses and AstraZeneca into the country. But the province is preparing for the possibility that they will not.
“If it still looks to be a problem, we will provide people with what they need,” Henry said.
“Right now, we don’t want people to get an extra dose they don’t need when it may interfere with a new booster or new strain. We will make sure people with essential travel get the doses they need.”
Currently, there is no requirement to be vaccinated to enter the United States. That government is moving to require vaccination for travel starting in November.
The Biden administration has not determined yet what vaccine or combinations of vaccines will be allowed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have only approved Pfizer’s Comirnaty, Moderna’s Spikevax, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccines. An approval for use does not necessarily mean it will be limited for travel.
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The CDC has not approved AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria vaccine, nor has it approved mixing and matching.
“We know things are changing very, very quickly. The irony is the AstraZeneca vaccine that we received was manufactured in the U.S.,” Henry said.
“I am fully expecting them — as the data becomes more available — that countries will be modifying their acceptance of other vaccine programs. If you plan on travelling next year, this will be sorted out.”
Data presented by the B.C. government shows 93 per cent of people who received Vaxzevria and a dose of an mRNA vaccine avoided getting the Delta variant.
The United States could also be looking at financial consequences if it barred entry for fully vaccinated Canadians.
The U.S. welcomes more visitors from Canada than any other country. Restricting access of mixed vaccines would also keep visitors out from France and Germany.
“In the weeks and months ahead, we should expect more pragmatism to reign,” Ashley Nunes, director for competition policy at the R Street Institute in Washington, D.C., said.
“Cash is king. Even during a pandemic. There is considerable pressure on the administration, especially from border states, to let people in. We are not just talking about millions of dollars. We are talking about billions and billions of dollars.”
One of the reasons British Columbia is not immediately providing additional doses for those worried about travel restrictions is because the doses are going elsewhere.
The province is preparing to vaccinate children, potentially as early as the end of October. Health officials are also considering a third dose for people who are homeless where breakthrough cases are taking place.