Which COVID-19 vaccinations are recognized abroad? A guide for Canadian travellers
EDMONTON -- As Canadians begin to embrace a return to normalcy, many are considering the exciting prospect of travelling once again. But those who choose to go abroad may soon realize that picking a destination isn’t as straight forward as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
While a negative PCR test before departure is still required by most destinations, many countries also require foreign visitors to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 when entering.
Others may require travellers who aren’t fully vaccinated to quarantine before they’re allowed to travel freely within the country.
The problem is some countries do not currently recognize travellers with mixed vaccine doses as being fully vaccinated – which could create serious hiccups for millions of Canadians whose doses don’t match.
Why is this the case?
Well, despite being recommended by Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), not all countries recommend the mixing-and-matching of COVID-19 vaccine doses.
Similarly, vaccines that have been approved for use in this country by Health Canada – like the AstraZeneca vaccine – have not been approved in other countries, like the U.S., further complicating matters.
TRAVELLING TO THE U.S.
While the U.S. land border remains closed to Canadians, you can fly to the U.S. pending proof of a negative molecular or antigen COVID-19 test taken no more than three days before your flight.
There are currently no vaccination requirements in place for Canadian visitors to the U.S. But those with mixed doses could eventually find themselves in a pickle thanks to the country’s stance on mixing and matching.
“Only people who have received all recommended doses of an FDA-authorized or WHO-listed COVID-19 vaccine are considered fully vaccinated for the purpose of public health guidance,” a U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) spokesperson told CTVNews.ca in an email.
“COVID-19 vaccines are not interchangeable; the safety and effectiveness of receiving two different COVID-19 vaccines has not been studied.”
Some cruise lines that dock in the U.S. – like Norwegian Cruise Line – have said they will not recognize international passengers who've mixed and matched vaccinations.
Princess Cruise Lines guests who have received a vector vaccine, including AstraZeneca, as their first dose, followed by an mRNA vaccine "will not be considered fully vaccinated." However, the company will allow for passengers who received mixed mRNA vaccine doses, such as Pfizer and Moderna.
Holland America Line and Carnival Cruise Line also currently have similar policies in place.
Keep in mind that proof of vaccination may be required for certain activities within the U.S., including concert venues and sporting events. All 41 Broadway theatres in New York City will require proof of vaccination for all performances through the month of October.
Mixed vaccinations won’t be a problem for Canadian travellers heading to popular destinations like Jamaica – which considers anyone with two doses of a World Health Organization (WHO) recognized vaccine to be fully vaccinated – or Cuba and the Dominican Republic, which are not making any distinction between vaccinated or unvaccinated travellers.
But the issue has already caused confusion for those headed to Barbados, which reversed its policy to recognize travellers with mixed doses on July 15.
Trinidad and Tobago’s policy is also limiting for those with mixed vaccines.
“For 2-dose series COVID-19 vaccines, passengers must have received 2 doses of the same vaccine OR the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine,” reads the country’s travel requirements.
“Passengers with any other combination of vaccines would NOT be considered fully vaccinated, at this time.”
Canadians who have been vaccinated with one or more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine may run into another issue when travelling to Europe.
While the European Union has approved Vaxzevria, the European-manufactured version of AstraZeneca, it has not authorized COVISHIELD, the Indian-made version of the same vaccine that some 80,000 Canadians have received at least one dose of.
Because of this, countries like Italy, Portugal, and Poland do not recognize COVISHIELD, preventing Canadians who received the vaccine from taking advantage of privileges offered to fully vaccinated travellers, such as being exempt from quarantine.
Luckily, a growing number of European countries have recently accepted the COVIDSHIELD vaccine, including Austria, Spain and France.
The United Kingdom also recognizes COVISHIELD. However, fully vaccinated Canadians travelling to the region still must quarantine no matter what type of vaccine they have, unlike American visitors.
No matter where you plan on travelling, be sure to read the fine print of the travel requirements for the country you plan on visiting, as each country differs in terms of vaccination and testing requirements. Most countries list this information on a government website under coronavirus information and entry requirements.
What vaccines are and aren’t recognized is also likely to change regularly as countries approve new vaccines and more data is collected on the efficacy of mixing and matching vaccines.