Have mixed doses, won’t travel? Canadians who got two different COVID jabs worry U.S. border rules could exclude them

Have mixed doses, won’t travel? Canadians who got two different COVID jabs worry U.S. border rules could exclude them
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Patsy Nunes was glad to get the AstraZeneca vaccine when she called around looking for appointments last April, and she’s glad to have it now.

She just wishes the U.S. officials were as happy about her two-dose combo as she is.

With one dose of AstraZeneca, and one dose of Pfizer, she and her husband are unsure about whether they’ll be able to visit her parents in North Carolina, even after land-border restrictions loosen next month.

With the news that the U.S. land border reopening plan doesn’t yet state that people who’ve gotten two different doses of COVID-19 vaccine can cross into the U.S., Nunes is wondering whether mixed-dose recipients like her will ever be recognized as seamlessly as those who had two of the same vaccine doses.

She also wonders whether a third dose could eventually be part of the solution.

“I got my AstraZeneca because we were told, and I believe it’s good that we were told, to get the first vaccine available to us,” Nunes said. “It’s unfortunate that all these people who did exactly what we were told are in this situation where we may not be able to cross the border. It never occurred to me that (my vaccine) wouldn’t be accepted in other places.”

She says she’s still glad to have had it after getting Pfizer as a second dose — because the evidence showed as a person getting two of the same vaccine doses.

Officials in the U.S. announced this week that the country would open its land border to Canadians and Mexicans who are fully vaccinated with a WHO approved COVID-19 vaccine. But, officials have said that the CDC is still discussing whether foreigners crossing from Canada or Mexico with two doses of different vaccines can enter.

That leaves more than 3.88 million Canadians who received two different doses of vaccine in limbo, while American health officials try to figure out what to do. About 1.5 million of those people had AstraZeneca as a first dose, and have already gone through one logistical challenge as various provinces stopped giving AstraZeneca in favour of MRNA vaccines.

In Nunes’ case, the border closure has kept her and her family in Cambridge Ontario apart from other close family members in the U.S. since March of 2020. Her parents, Harry and Mary Lee Mamlin, live in a retirement home in North Carolina, and are both in good health, in their 80s.

Meanwhile, Nunes’ daughter has had two children since the pandemic began — and the whole family would love for great-grandparents and the new additions to meet.

Right now, it’s looking more likely that Nunes’ fullly-vaccinated parents will travel to Canada to visit than the other way around. But Nunes, who is 60, said she would like to have the option of travelling in the other direction, even if it were just for peace of mind.

Kelly Green, who is from Whitby and in the same situation as Nunes, with one dose of AstraZeneca and one dose of an MRNA vaccine, said she also does not regret her vaccine choice, but that she wishes she didn’t have to carry so much uncertainty about travel anymore.

She had an Alaska cruise cancelled due to the pandemic, and is still uncertain about when she’ll be able to use the credit for the vacation. It’s not that she wants to rush to cross the border immediately, but she would at least like to know more about where she stands, by hearing from U.S. officials at the CDC about the data they’re considering.

“I’m still glad that I did it at the time. I feel safe, I feel protected,” she said. “I think we’re all just kind of wondering what are our next steps will be to move back to some kind of normalcy. (My vaccine combination) works within Canada — what happens when we want to move through the U.S.?”

She, like Nunes, wondered if a third dose could be offered to mixed-dose recipients at some point, if the mixed doses continue to go unrecognized.

Canadian public health officials have been providing the CDC in the U.S. with data on the effectiveness of mixed vaccine doses in the Canadian population , with an eye to get the vaccine combinations recognized for travel purposes.

As of Wednesday, the CDC website still stated that “data on the safety and efficacy of a mixed-product series are limited. Both doses of the series should be completed with the same product.”

Nunes said that, if it turns out the U.S. will not recognize the mixed doses, she thinks it would be fair for Canadian health officials to offer third doses of vaccine to mixed-dose recipients, after boosters have been given to everyone who needs one medically.

“I hope what they say is true that they are in serious negotiations to get those vaccines approved,” she said. “But if they don’t or if it’s a long delay I feel it would be fair to offer us a third dose.”
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