COVID-19: Travel troubles the latest woe for AstraZeneca vaccine

Some British Columbians worry they chose the wrong vaccine, but health officials were quick to reassure them.

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Blame Bruce Springsteen for beleaguered AstraZeneca’s latest woes.

The rocker’s recent concert announcement, which excludes people who haven’t been vaccinated by one of three vaccines, has some British Columbians wondering if they made the right choice.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been linked to rare blood clotting, has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Those who received two doses of AstraZeneca won’t be able to attend Springsteen’s live Broadway show in New York, which is only open to fans who can show proof of being vaccinated with an FDA-approved vaccine.

Setting aside the fact that it’s almost impossible for someone in B.C. to travel to New York right now, the news is worrying many who followed advice from local health officials and took the first vaccine they were offered.

Michael Slavitch said he made two separate appointments for his second dose, but now plans to cancel his AstraZeneca shot and take an mRNA one instead.


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Slavitch said he’s particularly concerned about whether his AstraZeneca vaccine, or mixing and matching, will be accepted by other countries as international travel opens up.

“I’m confused about what to do,” he said. “Our government is responsible for cleaning up this mess.”

Meanwhile, B.C. reported one death and 108 cases if COVID-19 in the past day on Friday. It said 76.7 per cent of adults have now have had their first dose of a COVID vaccine, while 823,371 people have had two doses.

Perhaps not as widely reported as the reopening of Springsteen’s show, the issue was further confused Thursday when Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization made a new recommendation saying that an mRNA vaccine, such as Pfizer or Moderna, is the “preferred” choice for a second shot. This was after saying on June 1 that AstraZeneca recipients “could” mix-and-match.

The evolving message upset Gwenny Farrell, a White Rock resident who booked her second dose of AstraZeneca on the first day it became available.

“I’m frustrated because now, after being told for months that the best vaccine is the first one that’s in your arm, I’m being told I may have made a mistake,” she said.

But B.C.’s public safety minister, Mike Farnworth, said he got his second AstraZeneca dose last week and would do the same if it was available this week.

His message to others who have received two doses is clear: “Don’t worry, you’re fully vaccinated.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who also got the AstraZeneca vaccine, said his government is working with U.S. and international officials to ensure Canadians who received AstraZeneca face few barriers to travel.


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Health officials also tried to put minds at ease, with both Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, and B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, saying discussions around vaccines and travel continue.

“Every country has authorized different vaccines,” said Tam. “It’s not just the United States. It could be different countries in Europe, it could be different countries in Asia. They’re all making different policy decisions at the moment.

“So I think the important thing is to engage in international discussions, whether they be the G7 or bilaterally with the United States or others, to come to a point where we can accept each other’s data.”

Henry said her expectation is that World Health Organization-approved vaccines will eventually become the standard that will be met around the world.

“We do expect that it will be the standard that WHO sets that allows us to have a measurable standard around the world. And all of the vaccines that are approved for use here in Canada, and all the combinations, are approved by WHO as well,” she said.

Henry was also asked about the possibility that people who have received a double dose of AstraZeneca could get a booster of Pfizer or Moderna to allow them to travel more freely. She dismissed that idea.

“There’s no evidence that … it’s needed, or that it provides any additional benefit,” she said.

“We know from real-world experience … that the vaccine effectiveness after two doses of AstraZeneca was exactly the same as after two doses of mRNA vaccines. So they work, they protect you.”


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Henry said discussions about boosters will be informed by science, and studies are underway to determine how long each vaccine provides protection: “We need to look at what happens as we go into the fall. It may be months from now that we’ll find that immunity decreases with one or the other combinations of vaccines, and it may decrease with all of them.”

Gabor Lukacs, an air-passenger rights advocate, said Canada needs to focus on the “paperwork” associated with vaccines to ensure Canadians’ vaccination records are accepted by other countries. He said it needs to come from government, not airlines, since health data is sensitive. He supports vaccination passports in theory, pointing out many countries already require proof of vaccination against local diseases as a requirement for entry.

Delta travel agent Trina Dang-Bordes said vaccinated travellers should be able to travel.

Dang-Bordes, who is with Marlin Travel in Delta, said it would be “unfair” if travel was restricted for those who had an AstraZeneca vaccine.

With files by The Canadian Press


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